Once hailed as a major solution to cutting carbon emissions and slowing the pace of climate change, biomass fuels have come under increasing attack for their negative impacts in causing deforestation, land degradation and loss of biodiversity. But INBAR believes that bamboo bioenergy can offer a more sustainable solution.
With a single bamboo pole able to provide enough power for a rural household for a month, bamboo is a viable source of biomass for generating electricity. Small-scale energy production through gasification creates a clean gas with a charcoal by-product, thus providing two fuels for the price of one. For larger-scale power generation, the conventional combustion process is preferred, producing both electricity and heat. Both options have proven successful in trial projects in India, where the initiatives have also transformed local communities by creating new livelihood options.
Bamboo has a number of advantages over conventional biomass (e.g. fuelwood and charcoal). It grows fast and can be harvested after as little as four years. And it gives a very high yield – as much as 40 tonnes per hectare per year – thus giving a good rate of return on investment. The crop can be harvested continually, making it a more reliable energy source than solar or wind. Perhaps most importantly, it can quickly help to restore degraded land by stabilising the soil and protecting watersheds, thereby conserving land resources for the future and taking the pressure off our remaining forest ecosystems.
An estimated 2.6 billion people rely on traditional biomass energy for cooking and heating and this level of demand is likely to continue for at least the next 20 years. It could even increase to fill the energy gap created by international agreements to cut down on the use of fossil fuels.
The potential for bamboo to meet this need is just one of the topics discussed at the INBAR Summit: Bamboo and Rattan in the Green Economy, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2014. By bringing African government leaders together with the private sector, scientists and development experts, INBAR is raising the profile of bamboo and rattan as commodities that can make a significant contribution to green economic development.
The potential of bamboo as a sustainable biofuel is demonstrated by an initiative working in Ghana and Ethiopia – the first to develop bamboo firewood and charcoal as an alternative to timber charcoal in the region. More information on the project – Bamboo as sustainable biomass energy: a suitable alternative for firewood and charcoal production in Africa – can be accessed here.