Saturday, August 7, 2010

bio-mass and bio-diesel:some caution required

Biomass is generally agricultural residue coming out of plants and shrubs or waste from agro-food industry like sugar mills and rice mills.Biomass is burnt in boilers to generate electricity.Also ethanol , a petrol like bio-fuel , is made out of sugar industry by-products like molasses.Bio-Diesel is made from the fruit of a plant called Jatropha.It contains an oily material which is squeezed out of Jatropha,refined and used as a Diesel substitute.

These are good alternatives to the fossil fuels like oil and gas which we are short of.They are also environmentally friendly.However,following factors should be considered before adopting a wider development of these energy sources;

1)Pakistan is a populous country short both of water ,land and food. Bio-mass and Bio-fuel compete with food chain.
2)Biomass is a fuel of the poor.Natural gas or LPG network is not available every where.Poor people use plants and shrubs and other agricultural residue as a cooking fuel.Bio-mass base projects would commercialize this almost free source of energy for the poor.
3) In western countries there are large plantation and forest resources and thus large surplus and residue is available.Besides it is not used as a cooking fuel by any body.We are an arid country and are not blessed with such massive bio-sources.

Process waste such as bagasse and rice-husk and corn-cob coming out of agro-food processing industry does not divert away the poor man's fuel and thus may be welcome.Similarly Ethanol production as a bye-product of sugar industry only would not compete with food chain.

However the widely dispersed plant material and agricultural residue should not be allowed as an input for upcoming biomass based power plants,Similarly the ultimate impact of Bio-diesel and Jatropha plantation on water and land should be carefully considered before major initiatives are launched.Studies should be commissioned on these issues by AEDB and Planning Commission.

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