ECN: Biomass in Africa

What is the first thing you think of when you see the word bioenergy? For many people in Europe, bioenergy is associated with green energy, an alternative to fossil fuels or some high-tech innovation that allows you to run your car on leftover frying fat. In Africa, bioenergy has a completely different meaning. Bioenergy is energy obtained from biomass, which can be any renewable organic matter. Examples include cow dung, rapeseed, peat, but in Africa it’s mostly wood. And it plays a big role: 80% of all the energy in Africa – if you leave out the more developed Maghreb countries and South Africa – comes from traditional bioenergy, such as burning firewood for cooking. This traditional use of biomass causes many problems, such as deforestation and health threats from air pollution another. However, the switch from traditional bioenergy to finite reserves of fossil fuels, as we’ve seen in Western countries and more recently in Asia, comes with a huge increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Given the urgency of climate change problems, this is not a sustainable replacement for traditional bioenergy. For ECN, the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands, we investigate the future of bioenergy in Africa. Are there alternative, sustainable bioenergy methods to meet growing energy demand? What would the implementation of such new methods require in practice? And can these compete with fossil fuels?