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Bio-energy vs Fossil Fuels: A Better Option for Sustainable Development

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By Dr. Ebubechi Okuro Ibegbula
In the last decade, issues of climate change and global warming are more pressing than ever. Since the industrial revolution, 150 years ago, man has depended mostly on fossil fuels energy to drive   technological, socioeconomic and cultural changes that have taken place to date. Despite obvious benefits of these technological advancements which have greatly improved our living conditions, the negative environmental impacts of over dependence of fossil fuels have accumulated over the years  and now manifest globally as climate change and global warming; with devastating consequences for mankind and the natural environment.
The World’s energy resources are based on hydrocarbon compounds which are present in huge amounts as fossil energy reserves. These are being consumed at an ever increasing rate and today accounts for 90% of energy consumed globally. Fossil fuels are formed from natural processes like anaerobic decomposition of buried dead organisms which typically occurs over 650 million years. Fossil fuels include coal, petroleum, natural gas, oil shales, bitumen, tar sands and heavy oils. They are non-renewable energy sources because they take millions of years to form and are being depleted faster than replenished.
Bioenergy is a renewable energy source made available from materials derived from biological sources called Biomass. Biomass is any organic material which has stored sunlight in the form of chemical energy.  These include wood, wood waste, straw, manure, sugar cane and many other by products from a variety of agricultural processes. These can be processed into Biogas, Biomethane, Biodiesel and Bioethanol.
The common property of fossil and bioenergy sources is carbon which is equally present in the earth’s atmosphere, soil, oceans and crust. When viewing the earth as a “system”, these components can be referred to as “carbon pools” because they act as large storage houses for large amounts of carbon. Any movement of Carbon between these reservoirs is called “flux”. In an integrated system, fluxes connect reservoirs to create cycles and feed backs called the Carbon cycle. The carbon cycle is vital to the function and well being of planet earth. Globally it plays a key role in regulating the earth’s climate by controlling the amount of carbondioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. CO2 is a green house gas, meaning it has the ability to trap heat generated at the earth’s surface, preventing it from escaping through the atmosphere into space. The green house effect is a perfectly natural phenomenon and without it the earth would be a much cooler place, maybe too cold to support life. However, anything in excess is dangerous; an unnatural build up of green house gases can lead to our planet getting unnaturally hot. Today the burning of fossil fuels produces 21.3 billion tones of CO2 per year. Natural processes can absorb about half of this; hence there is a net increase of 10.65 billion tones of atmospheric CO2 per year, contributing to global warming via the green house effect. For the world’s climate and environment this causes an increase in Humidity, temperatures over the oceans, sea level, ocean heat content, sea surface temperature and temperature over land and a decrease in; sea ice, glaciers and snow cover, affecting the biodiversity of the earth as well as leading to an increase in extreme weather events such as floods, drought, hurricanes and tornados.  Bioenergy when exploited resourcefully does not cause an increase in atmospheric CO2, because about the same amount of CO2 absorbed from the atmosphere by biomass is set free when they are burned hence the cycle is closed.
Sustainable development is defined as the use of available resources to satisfy the needs of present generations without compromising the needs of future generations. The environmental impact of fossil fuel use does not make our over dependence on them sustainable for the future: Though it’s not possible for bioenergy to completely replace fossil fuels, responsible use of the earth’s resources is pertinent to reduce green house gas emissions and global warming hence World Governments are advised to favour Bioenergy technology development policies for a sustainable future.

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