Can biomass power development?
Biomass has been dubbed the ‘Cinderella’ of fuels. Few energy planners, development banks and policy makers treat biomass as a legitimate form of energy, despite it being the principal source of energy in developing countries and regardless of its importance~in their economies, especially the household, industrial and service sectors. Biomass is a biological material derived from living or recently living organisms, and includes wood, vegetative waste and dung and their products, such as charcoal, alcohol fuels and biogas. It is a source of renewable energy and a versatile carbon based fuel that can be grown on even the poorest soils. It does not increase emissions of greenhouse gases when optimal energy~conversion processes are used. In many countries, it is an important traded fuel and provides employment to rural people, thus assisting poverty alleviation.
However, the conventional view of biomass is that it is an unsustainable and polluting ‘traditional’ fuel that must be replaced by ‘modern’ energy, such as fossil fuel-based electricity, if rapid development is to occur. This paper explores the pros and cons of biomass and the logistics of switching to other fuels in developing countries. Calculations reveal that there is more than sufficient biomass, not only to maintain present consumption, but also to expand its use considerably. A principal cause of global warming is the increased use of fossil fuels. And the recent dramatic price rises in fossil fuels make them a volatile and insecure energy source. Therefore, rather than promoting energy policies based on fossil fuels, improving end-use efficiency, encouraging conservation and making renewable biomass more convenient are the most sensible strategies to pursue.