Int'l group urges PH to invest in biomass

By Anna Valmero, loQal.ph

QUEZON CITY, METRO MANILA—Developing countries like the Philippines can tap biomass energy to reduce dependence on fossil fuels while adapting to climate change, according to a study by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

Biomass energy, sourced from plant or animal matter, can be converted into major energy “carriers” such as heat, electricity, liquid and gas.

It can meet diverse energy requirements from powering irrigation pumps and agricultural processing to transport and telecommunications, said Duncan Macqueen, a senior researcher at IIED.

Macqueen is also the co-author of the report titled “Bundles of Energy: The Case for Renewable Biomass Energy”.

“The Philippines needs to be a bit more innovative in investing in renewable biomass energy because it is so accessible to rural communities, cuts emissions if produced sustainably, labor-intensive and creates job opportunities (compared with other renewable sources) and is flexible since it can be easily converted into traditional solid fuels, gaseous and liquid fuels and electricity,” he said, replying to questions via email.

Meanwhile, Department of Science and Technology (DoST) chief Mario Montejo said his agency is currently looking into biomass resources such as biodegradable garbage as a potential renewable energy source.

“There is a study proposal by a Cebu-based scientist about the potential of converting biomass into electricity such that 100 tons (of biodegradable wastes) can be converted into 750 kilowatts (of power),” he said in an interview.

“We are excited into the viability of this study but we have to meet first to check its viability,” he added.

Today, over two billion people depend on biomass for energy and the International Energy Agency forecasts global energy consumption to triple by 2050. At present, biomass energy makes up 77 percent or about two-thirds of total renewable energy production.

In Tanzania, a 2009 World Bank study showed that 80 per cent of the country’s energy needs are met by “fuel wood” and that the charcoal sector generates $650 million a year - ten times more than revenues from crops.

In countries like the Philippines, the production of biomass energy if often underreported, according to Macqueen.

Locally, biomass resources often consist of wood, dried branches, leaves and twigs, bamboo, coconut husk and rice hull, even manure from livestock and poultry and mostly agricultural wastes.

Charcoal is widely used in the Philippines, especially in the Southern region, according to the IIED report. Most Filipino charcoal producers use traditional ground-pit method of production, which is less efficient in terms of production than available modern technologies.

But this means that the production system and value chains are already existing, which makes investing on more efficient technologies the next step for the Philippines, said Macqueen.

The Philippines, he added, can also learn from India, which already invested in “gasification” technology that can convert wood and other biomass sources into electricity for small communities.

***

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