Is bamboo the answer when it comes to renewable energy?
As fossil fuel overuse continues to be a source of concern for climate experts across the world, prioritising development of alternative and sustainable energy solutions is vital in reversing our global reliance on non-renewable resources.
Developing countries currently rely largely on non-renewable fuels as their main source of energy. This is partly because there’s already a well developed infrastructure for production and trade of resources like oil and coal. In short, fossil fuels have been a central element in developing countries because they provide an economically “cheap” source of energy. But the unfortunate reality is that these cheap sources of energy are actually not cheap at all. They come at a cost to our shared environment and general quality of life on the planet. Many of these same countries, however, also produce bamboo as a component of their natural ecosystems. Recent research suggests that bamboo can provide opportunities to develop a modern, sustainable energy solution. This can be done by utilising production of bamboo biomass. There is already significant academic research showing that bamboo is a viable raw material for biomass energy production. These studies provide compelling arguments for bamboo’s status as the frontrunner in biomass energy.
Read on as Bamboo Bioproducts highlights some uses, benefits, and case studies of bamboo biomass conversion to renewable energy sources.
What exactly is biomass?
Biomass is defined as plant-based material used as fuel to produce heat or electricity (examples include, but are not limited to, resources such as wood and wood residues.) It’s important to note that since biomass can be used as a fuel directly, some people use the words biomass and biofuel interchangeably.
Biomass energy produced by plants is already being used by communities for heat, electricity, and transportation fuel. Since it’s such a versatile option, biomass energy is currently the most heavily utilised form of renewable energy around the globe.
What makes bamboo such a great candidate for conversion to energy?
There are many environmental and economic benefits of bamboo that deem it an excellent sustainable energy resource. Bamboo is highly renewable. It is one of the fastest growing plants on the planet– reaching up to 1 metre of growth per day!
Since bamboo is actually a grass, it does not need to be replanted each time it’s harvested. The roots remain intact and new bamboo shoots begin to grow.
For reference, many tree species take years to mature and need to be replanted once harvested. Comparatively, sugarcane (also utilised as an energy resource) has to be replanted every two years, whereas bamboo can typically be harvested annually without being replanted. In addition to bamboo being a great source of biomass for energy generation, Bamboo Bioproducts will produce energy by utilising the lignin composition of bamboo when converting its raw material in our pulp mill - a 100% renewable byproduct. Biochar is another bamboo byproduct not used for energy generation, but it locks up sequestered carbon while simultaneously being a natural soil conditioner and quality enhancer. Even though other plants, including sugarcane, are used to produce energy for power generation units, research has shown that bamboo is superior due to its fast growth cycle and bioremediation* abilities.
Ultimately, using bamboo in this way will reduce pressure created when other resources are used and processed for fuel.
As a bioenergy source, bamboo can be used as a solution in the form of solid (e.g. chips, pellets, briquettes and charcoal), liquid, and gaseous fuels for heating, electricity, and transport purposes. An advantage of bamboo over other herbaceous materials used for biomass (other than its high crop productivity) is its high biomass density - key for the economic conversion of biomass to bioenergy.
Case Studies: Implications of bamboo biomass projects around the world
Bamboo biomass energy projects are currently underway in a number of countries around the world.
INBAR shares its extensive use in countries such as China, India and Brazil - as substitutions for wood fuel products.
INBAR also highlights an initiative in Indonesia that has identified bamboo as the ideal biomass resource to generate electricity for remote communities.
In Nankan, Japan, Bamboo Energy started using bamboo as biomass fuel in 2015. Their plan for 2023 includes maintaining a bamboo electricity plant operating 330 days a year.
And of course, Jamaica will see the economic and environmental benefits of producing bamboo biomass with Bamboo Bioproducts. An essential element of our project is its environmental credentials. After the mill is initially powered up with LPG, the process of making pulp produces its own energy source. This is derived from lignin which is a biopolymer extracted from bamboo when cellulose fibres are separated to make pulp. Lignin is a fuel source used in the chemical recovery process of pulp production that generates large quantities of steam.
* bioremediation- the use of either naturally occurring or deliberately introduced microorganisms or other forms of life to consume and break down environmental pollutants, in order to clean up a polluted site.
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