Biomass, a vast reservoir of energy, comprises various organic raw
materials of plant origin: forestry products, specific crops, and recycled
agricultural, industrial or household waste. Worldwide, it represents
the fourth biggest energy resource (14% of global consumption). However,
apart from Austria, Finland and Sweden, where it plays a significant
role, biomass accounts for only 2% of Europe's energy balance. Biomass
energy can be stored and does not fluctuate, and it has numerous advantages.
Biomass is neutral in terms of the greenhouse effect: when used for
energy purposes, plants give off the carbon dioxide that they took in
while they were growing. A genuine biomass industry with considerable
potential for job creation would seem to be a good way of developing
the common agricultural policy.
Nevertheless, there are logistical problems involved in processing the
large volumes of raw materials required to obtain sufficient and economic
energy sources. At present, the cost of the energy produced is too high
for many applications.
Various European research projects involving conversion technologies
(thermochemical, chemical and biological processes) offer prospects
of diversified end-uses, either as a source of heat and power or in
the form of "biofuels".
Clean motor fuel
View of the Artenay distillery (France): bioethanol produced from
plants such as rape and sunflower represents an alternative source
of motor fuel.
Green fuel from agriculture
An Italian firm, together with German partners, has developed a process
for converting biomass of agricultural origin by means of pyrolysis.
This innovation makes it possible to obtain a gaseous fuel that can
be used by gas turbines or diesel engines to supply electricity.