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    Mongabay, a leading resource for news and perspectives on environmental and conservation issues related to the tropics, has launched Tropical Conservation Science - a new, open access academic e-journal. It will cover a wide variety of scientific and social studies on tropical ecosystems, their biodiversity and the threats posed to them. Tropical Conservation Science - March 8, 2008.

    At the 148th Meeting of the OPEC Conference, the oil exporting cartel decided to leave its production level unchanged, sending crude prices spiralling to new records (above $104). OPEC "observed that the market is well-supplied, with current commercial oil stocks standing above their five-year average. The Conference further noted, with concern, that the current price environment does not reflect market fundamentals, as crude oil prices are being strongly influenced by the weakness in the US dollar, rising inflation and significant flow of funds into the commodities market." OPEC - March 5, 2008.

    Kyushu University (Japan) is establishing what it says will be the world’s first graduate program in hydrogen energy technologies. The new master’s program for hydrogen engineering is to be offered at the university’s new Ito campus in Fukuoka Prefecture. Lectures will cover such topics as hydrogen energy and developing the fuel cells needed to convert hydrogen into heat or electricity. Of all the renewable pathways to produce hydrogen, bio-hydrogen based on the gasification of biomass is by far both the most efficient, cost-effective and cleanest. Fuel Cell Works - March 3, 2008.

    An entrepreneur in Ivory Coast has developed a project to establish a network of Miscanthus giganteus farms aimed at producing biomass for use in power generation. In a first phase, the goal is to grow the crop on 200 hectares, after which expansion will start. The project is in an advanced stage, but the entrepreneur still seeks partners and investors. The plantation is to be located in an agro-ecological zone qualified as highly suitable for the grass species. Contact us - March 3, 2008.

    A 7.1MW biomass power plant to be built on the Haiwaiian island of Kaua‘i has received approval from the local Planning Commission. The plant, owned and operated by Green Energy Hawaii, will use albizia trees, a hardy species that grows in poor soil on rainfall alone. The renewable power plant will meet 10 percent of the island's energy needs. Kauai World - February 27, 2008.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

South Korea Minister: "biomass most important of all renewables"

It is very rare for a policy maker to explicitly say which of the future energy sources he thinks will be the most important. Most politicians would prefer to remain technology neutral. But in South Korea, Knowledge & Economy Minister Lee Yoon-Ho was asked the question by parliament, requiring him to make a choice. His answer: biomass and bioenergy will be "the most important and useful amongst new sources of renewable energy for a significant time in the future".

The minister made the remarks on Tuesday in a plenary session of the parliamentary committee on knowledge and economy. Lee was answering Grand National Party lawmaker Kang Yong-seok’s questions on the efficiency of renewable energy sources.

The minister compared renewable technologies such as solar, wind, small hydro and biomass . The latter clearly stood out, even though Lee Yoon-Ho gave no list of reasons as to why he thinks this is so.

There are some obvious advantages to bioenergy, though, making his choice rather self-evident:
  • biomass offers reliable baseloads, as it is stored solar energy; other renewables are intermittent and thus rely on an outside source of energy in order to deliver energy round the clock. Currently, there are no efficient energy storage options for wind or solar
  • biomass is the only renewable energy source capable of providing renewable heat in an efficient manner (co-generation, district heating, household boilers); in many highly developed countries (like South Korea) heating is both the most difficult as well as the sector with the biggest need for renewable energy
  • biomass can make use of existing infrastructures, such as coal and gas power plants and their fuel handling infrastructures, as well as gas pipelines and coal supply chain infrastructures
  • biomass can be physically transported and traded, because it is stored solar energy. This makes it possible to plan and optimise energy production at sites that need reliable baseloads and where there is a lack of space for other renewables. Trading biomass also allows power producers to import fuels from countries where the production would yield major environmental or social benefits, or from places where a low-cost supply is available.
  • a single source of biomass can be converted into a wide range of products, from green platform chemicals to liquid, gaseous and solid fuels; this flexibility gives energy crop growers a range of strategic options which can maximise value
  • energy crops can help to restore the environment; they can be grown to perform key ecosystem services, such as curbing erosion and desertification, re-greening deforested areas, restoring soil health, and most importantly, sequestering carbon
  • biomass can become carbon-negative, that is, systems can be designed that actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere (by geosequestering biogenic CO2 or by sequestering biochar in soils); all other renewables on the contrary remain carbon-positive over their lifecycle
  • last but not least, biomass is by far the least costly of all renewables, easing the economic challenge of making a transition to clean energy and making it possible to serve the poor, who are always the first to suffer under higher energy prices
Obviously, the story of renewable energy is not one of pitting one technology against another one. On the contrary, renewables can be coupled to each other, and, with biomass delivering strong baseloads, replace all our fossil fuel based energy production in an affordable and efficient way [entry ends here].

Picture: Miscanthus x giganteus pellets, used in power plants in Europe.
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