Science - January 17, 2008

Nature can contribute more to energy production

Areas of nature in the Netherlands could provide far more biomass for energy production than they do now. Managers of these areas prefer to leave the potential bio-fuel lying in the area, because the costs of transporting the remains from pruning and mowing to incineration facilities are higher than the revenues, according to Alterra research.

Waste from pruning trees could be used for energy production.
The researchers have calculated that protected areas of nature and valuable habitats could contribute almost a million tons of dry biomass per year without causing any damage to the nature or sacrificing other important uses. This is good news, because generating energy by burning non-edible biomass can contribute to reducing CO2 emissions.

Nevertheless, at most only twenty percent of the estimated amount of biomass finds its way to the incinerators. A pity, say the researchers because, for much of the biomass that becomes available as a result of maintenance of nature areas, using it for energy is more useful than letting it turn into compost where it is.

According to Joop Spijker of Alterra, all land managers should be stimulated more to deliver wood and grass waste as fuel for bio-energy. ‘It would be financially much more interesting to nature and land managers if the by-products of maintaining these areas were linked to energy prices.’

This is the case for non-woody products such as grass, reed and heather turf especially in the long term. At present there is little demand for natural products other than wood for energy generation. The technology to convert these materials is lacking and regulations prevent the use of many types of biomass. But in the long run, it’s these non-woody products that will offer opportunities to nature managers, says Spijker. ‘Their flows represent high costs for nature managers, and as the National Ecological Network moves toward completion, more areas of nature will be created up to 2020, many of which will be grassland.’

Working together with other sectors can help stimulate the use of biomass from nature for bio-fuel. ‘Municipalities, water boards and farmers also have a lot of biomass they need to get rid of. Together it will be easier to come to regional solutions, such as an incinerator in the area. This saves on transport costs and creates an entirely new market. Perhaps nature managers will ultimately even make a profit on their waste products,’ says Spijker.