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GeoJoumal 7.

1 5-14/1983
© Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft • Wiesbaden

Biomass for Energy in Developing Countries

Hall, D.O., Prof. Ph.D., Moss, Patricia A., B. Sc., King's College, London,
68 I-tall Moon Lane, London SE24 9JF, England

Abstract: Biomass, like fossil fuels, can provide cooking and heating energy, electricity,
chemicals and liquid fuels. Today about 14 % of the worldwide primary energy supply is
provided by biomass resources - equivalent to 1000 million tons oil each year. Most of this
biomass use occurs in rural areas of developing countries where half the world's population
lives. For example Kenya derives about 75 %, India 50 %, China 33 % and Brazil 25 % of their
total energy from biomass. A number of industrialized countries also derive a considerable
amount of energy from biomass, such as Finland 18 %, Ireland 16 %, Sweden 9 % and USA
3 %. World expenditure on biomass programmes exceeds 52 bn/yr; several national biomass
energy programmes are discussed. Biomass resources and conversion technologies are des-
cribed, as are the factors necessary for successful regional implementation of biomass energy

is over a billion dollars per annum in North America and
Europe. Secondly, in at least two countries, viz. Brazil
(which currently spends over half of its foreign currency
As more detailed energy information became available in
on oil imports) and China with over 7 million biogas
recent years it has become increasingly evident that biomass
digesters, large scale biomass energy schemes are being
already contributes a significant part o f the world's energy.
implemented - the current investment is about 1.3 billion
Fuels such as firewood, dung, charcoal, peat, residues,
dollars per annum in Brazil. Thirdly, in the developing
methane and alcohol are important sources of energy to
countries as a whole there has been an accelerating use o f
very many people. But how much biomass will contribute
biomass as oil products have become too expensive and/or
in the future will depend very much on decisions that are
made both at the local level and at the national level, in
addition to international policy making. Decisions that are
made over the next few years will significantly influence
the level of biomass energy use in the future. Biomass
The oil/energy problem o f the 1970s has had three (Coombs 1980, Hall 1979a + b, 1981a, 1982a, UK-ISES
clear effects on biomass energy deveiopments. Firstly, in a 1976, Zaborsky 1981 )
number o f developed countries large research and develop-
ment programmes have been instituted which have sought Biomass is a jargon term used in the context of energy for
to establish the potential, the costs and the methods o f a range o f organic products which have been derived from
implementation for energy from biomass. The prospects photosynthesis; the products are familiar ones such as wastes
look far more promising than was thought even three years from urban areas, residues from forestry and agricultural
ago. Demonstrations, commercial trials and industrial pro- processes, specifically grown crops like trees, starch, oil
jects are being implemented. Estimated current expenditure and sugar-bearing crops, hydrocarbon plants and aquatic
6 GeoJoumal 7.1/1983

Tons coal plants such as water weeds and algae. Thus everything
I. Proven reserves Equivalent which has resulted from the process of photosynthesis is a
Coal 5x1011 potential source of energy. We are talking essentially about
Oil 2x1011 a solar energy conversion system, since this is what photo-
Gas 1 xl011
synthesis is. The problem with solar radiation is that it is
8x1011 t 25 x 1021 J diffuse and also intermittent, so that if we are going to use
it we have to capture a diffuse source of energy and then
Estimated resources
Coal 85 x 1011 store it - this is a problem that plants solved a long time
Oil 5 x 1011 ago.
Gas 3 x 1011 The process of photosynthesis embodies the two most
Unconventional gas and oil 20 x 1011 important reactions in life. The first one is the water-split-
113x1011 t =300 x 1021J ting reaction which evolves oxygen as a byproduct; all life
depends on this reaction. Secondly is the fixation of carbon
3. Fossil fuels used so far (1976)2 x 101 ] t carbon = 6 x 1021 J dioxide to organic compounds. All our food and fuel is
derived from this CO2 fixation from the atmosphere.
4. World's annual energy use = 3 x 1020 J
(5 x 109 t carbon from fossil fuels) When looking at an energy process we need to have some
understanding of what the efficiency of this process will
5. Annual photosynthesis 8 x 1010 t carbon be; one needs to look at the efficiency over the entire
(a) net primary production = 3 x 1021 J cycle of the system, and in the process of photosynthesis
(2 x 1011 t organic matter)
(b) cultivated land only 0.4 x 1010 t carbon
we mean incoming solar radiation converted to a stored
end-product Most people agree that the practical maximum
6. Stored in biomass efficiency of photosynthesis is between 5 and 6 %. This
(a) total (90 % in trees) 8 x 1011tcarbon = 20x 1021j might not seem very good but remember that it represents
(b) cultivated land only 0.06 x 1011 t carbon
stored energy.
(standing mass)
The photosynthetic efficiency will determine the bio-
7. Atmospheric CO 2 7x 1011 t carbon mass dry weight yields. For example, in the UK with 100
8. CO 2 in ocean surface layers 6 x 1011 t carbon Wrri2 incoming radiation a good potato crop growing at 1%
9. Soil organic matter 10-30 x 1011 t carbon efficiency (usually not higher than this in temperate
10. Ocean organic matter 17 x 1011 t carbon
regions), will yield 2 0 - 2 5 t dry weight per annum per ha.
Tab 1 Fossil Fuel Reserves and Resources, Biomass Production
Obviously if we can grow and adapt plants to increase the
and CO 2 Balances photosynthetic efficiency the dry weight yields will

Tab 2 Summary of Selected National

Energy Consumption Surveys
(Hall, Barnard, Moss 1982)