What is bioenergy?
Bioenergy is energy produced from biomass. It is a flexible energy form that can be widely substituted for fossil fuels and complement other renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and geothermal energy.
Bioenergy is produced in solid, liquid, or gaseous form, permitting use in a wide range of applications such as in the residential and commercial sectors, a large part for space heating, which represents some 39% of total Canadian energy consumption, the industrial sector, for process heating and power, representing 30% of Canadian energy consumption, and finally in the transportation sector, mostly supplied by fossil fuels, representing 31% of total Canadian energy consumption.
What is biomass?
Bioenergy is organic material that can be converted into usable energy.
Biomass sources include:
Logging and mill residues;
Wood from fire and insect-killed forest stands;
Wood from thinnings,and non-merchantable timber,
Agricultural crop, and food processing residues;
Manure from farm livestock operations; other organic materials
Municipal waste and landfill gas.
The main biomass feed stocks for the production of electrical power are paper mill residue, lumber mill scrap, and municipal waste. For biomass fuels, the most common feed stocks used today are corn grain (for ethanol) and soybeans (for biodiesel). In the near future agricultural residues such as corn stover (the stalks, leaves, and husks of the plant) and wheat straw will also be used. Long-term plans include growing and using dedicated energy crops, such as fast-growing trees and grasses, and algae. These feed stocks can grow sustainably on land that will not support intensive food crops.
- Bioenergy, from biomass sourced sustainably, is fully renewable and emits significantly less net CO2 and fewer pollutants when compared to fossil-based energy; this is especially so when the biomass is used locally.
- Bioenergy complements other forms of renewable energy in that it can be available on demand 24/7.
- Bioenergy use reduces volumes of woody and organic wastes to the landfill, eliminates costly municipal waste disposal problems, and reduces environmental impacts by recycling on a large scale.
- Bioenergy creates more than twice as many local jobs as other types of renewable energy (solar and wind) and three times as many as fossil energy, thereby contributing to the economic welfare of both urban and especially rural areas.
- Bioenergy is cost-effective in many applications in Canada and it will be increasingly so as technology is developed, the price of fossil fuels continues to increase, and the infrastructure is established.
- Bioenergy development is creating significant investment opportunities because of new, advanced technologies and the expanding role of bioenergy in the economy.
What are the Barriers?
- Low energy prices - Despite the recent run up in crude oil prices, energy pricing of fossil fuels in Canada continues to be significantly lower than many other parts of the industrialized world, partly because the significant environmental costs are not built in, and governments are still providing incentives for fossil fuels.
- Lack of capital - The development of renewable energy requires considerable research monies, plant and equipment, distribution infrastructure and competes with a mature fossil fuel industry. Because new technology is often involved, Greenfield sites are needed, and plants are of a smaller scale to match the sources of biomass, initial capital cost per joule is more expensive.
- Small, widely separated biomass sources – Biomass sources are typically dispersed and often in remote areas of the Country. Infrastructure to access these sources in an economical way are still being developed.
- Undeveloped supply chains – Supply chains for the fossil fuel industry have been developed over many years at huge cost. Economies of scale still favour fossil fuels, until bioenergy starts to catch up.
- Regulatory hurdles – Bioenergy often requires new technology and different business models to succeed. There are many regulations that must be modified to recognize these changes.
- Lack of knowledge / misconceptions – As with any significant change, and the transformation to a clean, renewable future will certainly be so, there is considerable resistance if not active opposition by vested interests.