One of the possible pillars of renewable energy sources is to increase the use of biofuels; fuels that are grown and processed. A biofuel is a type of fuel whose energy is derived from biological carbon fixation as opposed to a fossil fuel. The green industry is interested in establishing a biorefinery sector in Denmark that can replace oil-based products with biofriendly materials, chemicals, energy and fuel. But this requires a larger biomass production than is currently being achieved. Scientists from University of Copenhagen and Aarhus University have published a new extensive report that shows how an increase of production of biomass by more than 200% can be achieved in an environmentally friendly way.
The biomass report called The ten-million-tonne plan shows how the Danish production of biomass from agriculture and forestry by 10 million tonnes per year without affecting the current production of feed and food. One of the difficulties in biofuels in that it can potential take away from other useful bio-production needs such as growing food.
Biofuel development and use is a complex issue because there are many biofuel options which are available. Biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, are currently produced from the products of conventional food crops such as the starch, sugar and oil feedstocks from crops that include wheat, maize, sugar cane, palm oil and oilseed rape. Any major switch to biofuels from such crops would create a direct competition with their use for food and animal feed, and in some parts of the world the economic consequences are already visible.
"It sounds too good to be true, but it is quite realistic. By concentrating on a number of areas we can in practice double plant production and improve the utilization of existing resources so there is enough both for food and feed production and for an additional 10 million tonnes of biomass in 2020," says Morten Gylling, senior advisor at the Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen.
"One of the options is to double crop yield per hectare in selected areas. This can be done by converting to cropping systems with improved perennial crops and break crops to extend the growing season and thus more fully exploit the solar radiation. This will be sufficient to meet the requirements for both feed and food production and for the biomass production for a number of biofriendly products," explains Uffe Jørgensen, senior scientist at Aarhus University.
New biorefinery sector possible
The increased production of biomass means that it would be possible to establish a biorefinery sector in Denmark — a sector that is crucial for the establishment of a green growth economy in Denmark.
"A future Danish biorefinery sector would create around new 20,000 jobs in production and industry, primarily in the provinces," says Professor Claus Felby from the University of Copenhagen and continues:
"10 million tonnes of biomass actually corresponds to 20 percent of our current consumption of natural gas and to 30-50 percent of our consumption of petroleum and diesel. To this should be added a significantly higher feed production that to a large extent will be able to replace what we currently import from countries such as South America," says Claus Felby.
Biomass venture reduces impact on environment
The results of the report also show that the aquatic environment will improve with a focus on biomass. (This loss is due to excess nutrients being washed out to sea or surface waters.) The loss of nitrogen from farmland can be reduced by more than 20,000 tones:
"We can increase biodiversity by harvesting the grass from approx. 70,000 ha of lowland meadows so they do not become smothered in nettles and willow as a result of nutrient overloads. Another option is to increase the area with natural woodland by 47,000 ha, and it is also possible to cut and remove the biomass and nutrients from approx. 7,000 ha of road verges to increase floral diversity," adds Uffe Jørgensen.
This report shows that the theory of increased production is possible. What is not clear are the economics and the practicality of instituting such a change.
For further information see Biofuel.
Sugarcane image via Wikipedia.