Biomass for energy: a dream come true ... or a nightmare?
Journal article, 2011
Bioenergy can come to play a significant role in the global energy system and perhaps account for one fifth of global energy supply in 50 years in response to ambitions to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. But bioenergy is complicated. There are both traditional and modern forms. In this article, I will exclusively look at modern forms, i.e., biomass for electricity, transport and heat, and process heat (not traditional forms used for cooking in developing countries). Furthermore, there are both 'good' and 'bad' kinds, expensive and inexpensive technologies, bioenergy systems that lead to massive carbon dioxide emissions and systems that are carbon neutral, and even ones that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while delivering energy. There is concern that certain bioenergy forms will, in response to increasing carbon prices, become so attractive that food prices increase significantly, that poor people are evicted from their lands, and that rainforest and other sensitive ecosystem are destroyed in order to pave the way for bioenergy plantations. This article offers a survey of these risks, and the policy instruments intended to deal with the challenges.