In the current context of energy crisis in Argentina, the Agronomy Faculty of the UBA (FAUBA) has conducted a research that describes the enormous potential of Argentina for the generation of bioenergy. The study encourages the design of sustainable production systems, and proposes to produce electricity with the use of forest biomass which so often is burned in natural fires.
“The vegetation that is lost in fires every year would allow to meet the total demand for electricity in the country,” says Santiago Veron, a researcher of the department of Quantitative Methods at FAUBA and CONICET. His calculations, which take into account all biomass destroyed from 2003 to 2010, result in a theoretical production of 154 terawatts / hour per year of electric power. In 2008, the total electricity consumption in Argentina was of 110 tw / h. The findings reveal a privileged position on bioenergy for Argentina, as part of a group of 57 countries likely to meet their total demand for electricity with the energy released from vegetation burning. In addition, the paper points out that the use of this energy source could reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by replacing fossil fuels involved in thermoelectric generation. Unlike the latter, the use of biomass plants allows carbon to re circulate instead of making a net contribution of CO2 to the atmosphere, as happens when using gas or fuel oil to generate electricity. According to FAUBA measurements, a thermal power plant with an installed capacity of 113 megawatts, would be equivalent to a circular biomass area of 34 km diameter running for a year, which would not represent a large area for the region. The power generated in the Chaco forest could be used in any industrial area or city of the country using a high voltage grid.
Bioelectricity production does not mean such a radical change in land use as when the mountain is replaced by soybean crops, yet representing a much more efficient use compared to the production of coal carried out in these forests under extremely precarious work conditions.
“We seek to make more efficient use of the forest, which will be crucial in the coming years, because the problem arises not only between agricultural production and the environment, but between agriculture for food, the preservation of natural resources and a new actor, as is the energy. Today, we are looking for all these in the same ecosystem, because as fossil fuels run out it is not possible to go find additional in the underground, “said Veron.
On average, in the world each year an area of about 4.3 million square kilometers burns due to natural and deliberately caused fires, to have access to new areas for agriculture, for example. This is an area the size of India.
The results of the study show that the energy dissipated in these fires is equivalent to 15% of the energy consumed annually worldwide. Only taking into account electricity, 47% of the total annual consumption could be met, considering conservative efficiencies of biomass conversion to electricity.
One of the reasons for the replacement of forest by soybean crops is the production of biodiesel, which although also generates energy, presents low energy efficiency compared to energy recovery from biomass.