Submission

To:Clean Energy Council
re: Comment on Bioenergy: Myths and Facts information sheet

Date : 16 October 2012

EFN considers that the document, Bioenergy myths and facts released by the Clean Energy Council in August 2012 gives a superficial and biased consideration of bioenergy and its contingent issues.  The document does not help clarify issues. It contains many statements which do not stand up to scientific scrutiny.

The issues of bioenergy are to do with renewability, sustainability and ecosystemic efficiency.  The key question that needs to be answered before considering using bioenergy is about what amount of biomass we can off the top of the carbon cycle without compromising, or damaging, the overall system.

The ecosystems of the earth are powered by the photosynthetic capacity of plants. Energy from the sun converts carbon dioxide into organic material, the source of biomass. It is this organic matter which is then steadily channelled down the carbon cycle and into the soil to power all the co-dependent life forms. If we start harvesting biomass before it has moved far into the carbon cycle, then we are depriving the ecosystem of its available energy. Such action can easily be exploitive and cause a decline in activity and diversity.

In the ecosystem sense, biomass is never waste. It is just another part of the cycle. We must get away from the incorrect claim that bioenergy production utilises waste. Bioenergy production utilises the potential energy assidiously accumulated by ecosystems.  Bioenergy production in harvesting biomass thus directly competes with ecosystem services.

The Clean Energy Council could be truly strategic and visionary and work towards collecting energy directly from solar radiation, and not be lazily arguing about how beneficial it is to continue to appropriate it from ecosystems.
Never-the-less, there is a role for controlled and limited harvest of biomass for fuelling human power needs. The Environmental Farmers Network policy on biofuels clearly accepts this. It can be viewed here.  We do wish though to again stress that biofuel is not the panacea the Bioenergy myths and facts document portrays.

In conclusion:

  • Bioenergy production is not sustainable if the rate of harvest is beyond the capability of that ecosystem to surrender biomass without loss of capacity and robustness;
  • Biomass harvest for bioenergy production (energy cropping) can only be classed as renewable if the ecosystem has a high level of productivity (as conceptualised in the model of land capability) -otherwise, it is explotative;   and,
  • Rapid oxidation (ie burning) of biomass might be a chemically and energetically efficient way of producing energy and carbon dioxide. However ecosystem efficiency is about the slow and steady release of energy - over many years - with multiple beneficiaries.

 

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