by JANNIS REISSIG


“Your course application is rejected.”

I stare at the letters. Damn. I had to chose one of two immersion courses. And one is already packed beyond capacity as I find out the next day. That leaves Biomass as only option. Plenty of room in that one. Only 10 sign ups so far. But I’m not planning on being number eleven. Because while Biomass is definitely renewable it is not sustainable nor responsible in my opinion. One reason why I didn’t go to Munich for example. The Master Renewable Energy there was highly focussed on Biomass and consisted for 60% of farming lectures.

The first thing that comes to mind is an article from a Dutch newspaper in 2008. After 9-11 the USA aimed to become energy independent and one way they tried were the so called Biofuels, mainly ethanol made from corn that was added to the gasoline. That mend the demand for corn went up and could not be covered cost effective by the national production. But thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) the US could buy cheap corn from mexico. The result was that the market price of corn skyrocketed and poor people in Mexico couldn’t afford basic food anymore. People were starving[1][2]. Which is one of main arguments against Biofuels as part of Biomass. “Plate vs. Petrol”.

In addition the main argument for biofuels as being carbon neutral turns out not to be true. [3] Off course when burning biofuel only the CO2 is released that was absorbed by the plants while growing. But when the emissions are taken into account that occur during the industrial production of the “biofuels”, meaning the farming and fermentations and refining processes, the carbon emissions rise above that of normal gasoline. As things are bio ethanol, similar to shale gas, contributes to the delay of the needed transition to actual clean energies.

So “biofuels” are not the way to go. But Biomass also includes biogas, an industry that has grown strong in Germany. Biogas plays a big role in almost all case studies for the national energy transition. I definitely would be interested in the science behind a biodigester. But I can get that from youtube[4]. And when biodigesters are fed with dedicated grown feedstock instead farm waste the sustainability predicament sticks its head up again. That would leave algae as fast growing source for food and biooil that could be refined into biodiesel. But algae is not part of the course. Off course not.

So besides my lack of enthusiasm for extended chemistry and farming lessons Biomass on an industrial scale is also against my convictions. In the end an extended conversation with a fellow student provides me with a solution. A bit of course juggling and its done.


[1] How Biofuels Could Starve the Poor, C. Ford Runge, Benjamin Senauer, 2007 http://www.nytimes.com/cfr/world/20070501faessay_v86n3_runge_senauer.html?pagewanted=print&_r=0

[2] Biofueling Hunger: How US Corn Ethanol Policy Drives Up Food Prices in Mexico, Action Aid USA Report, 2012

[3] Biofuels turn out to be a climate mistake, John DeCicco, University of Michigan, 2016

[4] How a biodigester works, Saskatchewan Research Council, 2013 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMX1Na-_oUg

[5] http://www.ipwatchdog.com/2014/04/22/university-research-leads-to-biofuel-breakthrough/id=49230/

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