Thursday, August 31, 2006

Back to the future in energy: biofuels

Bioenergy is obtained from materials originating from living or newly-harvested organisms. These include oils, fats, fibers, residues, wastes, and the like. The International Energy Agency (IAE) points out that two hundred years ago, virtually all energy consumption originated from bio-energy. However this was displaced by a more readily available and low cost source, namely fossil fuels (which originate from long-dead organisms, and are therefore non-renewable, except in a useless sense on a geologic time scale.)

However, recently, rising global demand for energy and all-time high nominal prices for petroleum are causing a large-scale shift towards alternative energy sources. Also driving the search for alternatives is are the numerous environmental problems linked to fossil fuel use, including global climate change.

In Asia, renewable energy accounted for as much as 24% of total energy usage in 2003, over ninety percent of which originated from combustible renewables and waste. The rural poor in developing countries are highly dependent on bioenergy. Four out of five households without electricity are found in rural areas of developing countries (FAO, 2005); such households rely on fuelwood and charcoal for most of their energy needs. Large sections of the rural poor have been bypassed by modern, centralized, energy generation and distribution systems. Bioenergy opens exciting opportunities for more accessible technologies for meeting the energy needs of the poor.

Back in college, for a group paper I and some classmates had a most enjoyable trip to Maya Farms in Rizal, Laguna. (Incidentally, my groupmates were all nice ladies, which played no small role in the recreational value of the experience - at least on my part.) Maya Farms - you may recall seeing its products in the supermarket - is a leader in integrated biogas generation. It is energy self-sufficient, with all its electricity internally produced from pig manure. Not an ounce of excrement flows out to pollute the adjacent river leading into Laguna Lake, unlike so many livestock enterprises (both large and small) dotting the perimeter of the Lake. Now that's a large scale, hi-tech operation. Perhaps small scale options, appropriate for rural communities and households, are feasible for decentralized power distribution among the energy-deficient rural poor. The future may well be in fats, fiber, detritus, and dung.

1 comment:

Amadeo said...

Biogas from pig manure. Now, that sounds like a blast from the past. Because in the 70's we had some piggeries in Northern Mindanao experimenting on precisely such a source for energy.

And I've often wondered whatever happened to such endeavors, especially that now piggeries and poultry/egg production are the boon (or more like glut for chicken production)in that same area.