In Search of Forest-based Bioenergy

In Search of Forest-based Bioenergy

15 June 2007

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Indonesia — Using wood as an energy source is a rational choice forunderprivileged and rural people. According to a Food and AgricultureOrganization (FAO) report in 2005, the availability and high price of keroseneand other fossil fuels (such as liquefied petroleum gas or LPG) make their uselimited, particularly in rural areas.

Research conducted H.Y. Hadikusumah in Majalaya, West Java, concluded that poorpeople use wood for energy as much as possible, resorting to kerosene only whenthe supply is exhausted.

Although woodfuel creates significant health hazards and has been declared the”silent killer” of women and children, it is the energy of necessity
rather than choice.

The decision to use either kerosene, woodfuel or other energy (such asbio-methanol) depends on several factors, such as the price, availability,reliability of supply, the cost of appliance replacement (i.e. stoves) and theenergy content of available alternatives. However, in many rural areas there isno option but to use woodfuel because of isolatiob and the lack ofinfrastructure to deliver other types of energy.

The use of forest biomass to produce energy can play a significant role in thelives of many people in the world. However, we need to explore the followingquestions:

Is it economically viable, environmentally sound, and socially acceptable if theraw materials for charcoal and woodfuel are transformed into biomethanol usingmobile technology that is both environmentally friendly and inexpensive?

Can we use the available silviculture regimes or ecosystem management principlesto achieve sustainable forest management while at the same time producing forestbiomass for bioenergy?

Can we use forest certification to prove that the sources of forest biomass aremanaged under the principles of sustainable forest management?

If the answer is “yes” to most of those questions, then we may useforest materials for biomethanol without further loosing significant forestareas or damaging the forest ecosystem in Indonesia.

According to the FAO, Indonesia has the 8th largest forest area in the world.Yet Indonesia is also one of ten countries with the largest annual
net loss in forest area in the years 2000-2005. This situation reflects themanifestation of a problematic structural of the forest sector, including thepolicy and regulatory frameworks, economic and financial policies, theoperations of the timber industry, and corruption

Inefficiency also happens in forest harvesting operations. Even withconservative calculations using production levels in the 1980s, total log wastewas 7.5 million m3/year with a value of almost Rp. 1.2 trillion/year.

Making forest more productive and sustainable will be one among technical toolsto control deforestation. In fact, using forest biomass for bioenergy withappropriate silvicultural techniques will not only reduce pressure to harvestmore commercial timbers since economic benefits not only come from commercialtrees.

It is also from less commercial trees, shrubs, and other biomass. The programwill also provide opportunity to have more healthy forest and other
community-based programs in the rural area.

According to a study in Washington state, production of biofuels or bioenergyfrom otherwise un-merchantable forest thinnings will be insufficient to coverthe cost of removing thinnings from the forest. However, if this material mustbe removed to reduce the risk of wildfire, then the range of biofuel and energyproduction options are preferable to the disposal of this material and should beaggressively pursued.

Approximately about 71.86 percent of what has been classified as forest residuecan be used as raw material for bioenergy production. If there are 7.5 millionm3/year (5.063 tonnes) forest residues and if we assume that we can use a veryconservative calculation of 25 percent efficiency when converting biomass tomethanol, the total biomethanol that can be produced will be 39.87 millionliters.

a. Electricity production from the amount of methanol will support 12,493households.

b. Total net carbon emissions avoided by subtracting bio-methanol for naturalgas in fuel cell is 29,365 tonnes of carbon, while 26,581 tonnes of carbon wouldavoid being emitted if bio-methanol was used to substitute or supplementgasoline use at country level.

There are always negative externalities that need to be carefully consideredwhen implementing any bioenergy program. In conventional forestry, forestmanagement will need to take into consideration both harvesting practices andspecial treatment of forest biomass.

To some extent, energy farms (plantation forests) will increase the competitionof land use and will gradually increase the price of agricultural products. Ifwoodfuel is produced on an unsustainable basis by the clear cutting of forests,substituting energy produced from wood for energy produced from fossil fuelswill not have a positive effect on carbon balances and could even be worse thanthe use of fossil fuels.

If woodfuel is produced from sustainably managed forests where the woodharvested is replaced, then the substitution of wood energy for fossil fuelswill result in a real reduction in the net carbon balance. From this point ofview, forest certification programs can be an appropriate tool when used toprove that sustainable forest management practices have been implemented in theFMU.

Similarly, if residues from harvesting and the wood industry are used for energyproduction, rather than left unused, this would also have a positive net effectto forest health (by reducing forest fire) and the availability of clean energyfor rural people.

The writer is a PhD candidate in the Forest Systems and Bio-Energy Program atthe College of Forest Resources at the University of Washington.

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