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The Biomass Revolution

I recently read an article in the Financial Times whereby, according to the paper, the Governor of the Bank of England (BoE), Mark Carney, “has thrown down the gauntlet to the fossil fuel industry with a blunt warning that investors face potentially huge losses from climate change action that could make vast reserves of oil, coal and gas literally un-burnable”.
Mark Carney’s comments, the Financial Times says, “are still likely to irk fossil fuel industry executives confronting climate campaigners who argue the risk of so-called stranded assets shows why investors should divest from fossil fuels.” The Governor of the Bank of England (BoE) also put forward that “Once climate change becomes a defi ning issue for fi nancial stability, it may already be too late.”
Moreover, the paper reported that Mr Carney told the Lloyd’s of London dinner that “suggestions that banks and insurers should face new requirements to encourage low-carbon investment were “fl awed”. “Instead, he said, “the Financial Stability Board may recommend G20 countries to make it easier for investors to compare the “carbon intensity” of different assets.”
“Information about companies’ carbon footprints would give investors a better idea of potential risks at a time when scientific evidence was showing that eventually, “climate change will threaten fi nancial resilience and longer term prosperity”, Mr Carney said.”
The BOE’s Governor Speech ends as follows: “While there is still time to act, the window of opportunity is fi nite and shrinking.”
Some facts on coal
We learn from “Infomine” that in 2014, energy- content-based coal consumption in China was essentially fl at, and production declined despite an overall economic growth of more than 7%. Beijing seems to be tackling the country’s serious pollution problems and as a result of these measures, Chinese coal imports have been steadily declining. Last year coal imports fell to the lowest level since 2012. So far this year, imports are down another 28%.
China is due to launch a long anticipated national “carbon cap-and-trade scheme” in 2017 susceptible to create the largest emissions market in the world. This plan is set to drive down consumption inside the country, which will drag down the price of coal still further. Specialists say we could see prices drop to $50/ton before the end of the year.
It is worth mentioning that at the same time Chinese imports are expected to decline by almost a third in 2015. At the same time, India’s electricity consumption is set to grow by nearly half over the next five years (Platts). All this creates a climate of instability, which blurs even the short-term visibility.
What does the Biomass Revolution call for in Mauritius?
Before answering this question, it would be fi tting to state that the last sentence of the BoE Governor’s speech focuses on a “finite and shrinking window of opportunity.”  
This is why the time for optimal development of biomass is NOW.
The country, and The Energy Sector of the Sugar Industry, cannot miss the opportunity of optimising the use of sugarcane bagasse as well as endeavour to favour the setting up of a suitable mechanism for the use of biomass other than bagasse, as well as one concerning the optimal use of bagasse itself.
The order of the day of the Authorities should be to favour the introduction of enhanced Cane varieties possessing both high sugar and high fibre content. These varieties exist in nearby Reunion Island, and I know that the MSIRI is busy looking into the matter.
Wood Biomass
There will soon be a need to fully encourage the production of Wood Biomass (Eucalyptus) to replace those canes presently grown on marginal land, which will sooner or later disappear due to being grown at a loss. Eucalyptus chips can easily be burnt in actual boilers and the calorifi c value of wood chips, though lower than that of coal, Eucalyptus Chips could replace a fair percentage of the coal used in Mauritius. Depending on varieties and on Humidity factors, each tonne of Eucalyptus burnt would save up to 500-650 Kgs of coal. This could create a very nice productive ‘fi lière” for all planters; small, medium and large.
Please note I am not suggesting that Wood Biomass could replace all the coal burnt….
The focus should be on firm renewables first
Even though Solar and Wind Energy is expensive, we should refrain from looking at them in opposition to bagasse and other Renewable- Biomass. Each has its benefi ts.
However, some logic must apply here.
Bagasse – Cane Straw
Renewable firm Bagasse energy is purchased at some MUR 2.00/KWh.
(Marginal price amounts to less than 0.05 cents/KWH). Solar energy is purchased by the CEB at MUR 6.65/KWh.
Should things remain as they are, no one will invest to produce clean, biomass renewable   energy, unless a reasonable price is afforded to them. There is LOTS of Biomass energy waiting to be released right now from Cane Straw, drier bagasse and CSR (see later). Even though this has a cost, it is far from the current MUR 6.65/KWH paid to Solar energy producers. (Not to mention the rates paid to small household producers, which stand at some MUR 25/KWh).
In this regard, it is fi tting to note what the National Energy Commission Report recommends:
“ In the case of other biomass (graminae and wood chips, local and/or imported), where all cultivation to processing costs have to be met from the kWh price, a different pricing mechanism will have to be evolved. The costs involved have not yet been determined as ventures into these forms of biomass are only starting as from 2013/14. At this stage only a range of values can be mentioned using the fact that such energy, with nil or negligible emission of SO2 and no additional emission of CO2, will displace coal in spreader stoker boilers but also displace the highly polluting HFO used as base load on the grid. This gives a range starting with the coal price and ending at the HFO price.”   
I may also add that another source of Renewable Biomass could come from what is called: “CSR: Combustibles solides de récupération” It is known that the Mare Chicose Landfi ll Ground will be choked up in 2020. This is behind the door. “CSR”, in fact, come from waste and have been defi ned as « combustibles solides préparés à partir de déchets non dangereux destinés à être valorisés énergétiquement dans des installations d’incinération ».
That combustible, produced by others, could be burnt under certain conditions, in some of the existing boilers at the same time as coal. This will simultaneously reduce the overall Carbon Footprint and ease the Mare Chicose saturation problem. Not to mention that specifi cally designed boilers could be considered on their own as well.
I believe the authorities should also have a good look at this possibility.
Energy is at the heart of the economic aspects of a country. The Higher Authorities have to set up a framework to encourage the production and off take of fair priced Electrical Energy. And at the same time, the CEB needs to adopt a pro-active attitude in this regard. The Prime Minister should know that he is the one who has allowed the production of electricity from bagasse through the setting up of The Bagasse Energy Development Scheme (BEDP) some 25 years ago. I suggest that through his Minister of Public Utilities, he now paves the way for a new framework adapted to the reality of the new times; as without one, there is likely to be no development and hence no tapping of existing potential.
In the wake of COP 21, let us remind ourselves that biomass does not emit additional CO2 and no sulphur dioxide considered by the US Environment Protection Agency as susceptible of causing asthma and bronchoconstriction which as we know can cause major harm to the population.
Let us not forget the words of the Governor of the Bank of England:
“While there is still time to act, the window of opportunity is fi nite and shrinking.”

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