The text within this page was first published in French on www.eautarcie.com : in January 2007
Olvasóimnak nagyon ajánlom egy VÍZÖNELLÁTÓ vendégház tulajdonosának, Spanyolországból, Andalúziából írt levelét.
The original text has since been adapted and first published in English on this page at www.eautarcie.org : 2009-06-15
Last update : 2011-04-04
Efforts are currently made to research «alternative» energy sources to replace fossil fuels. Biomass energy, also known as bioenergy is an obvious target as a «renewable» alternative energy source. Even so, a strict set of rules needs to be abided by if biomass energy is to truly be renewable.
• Forestry «energy plantations» (e.g. fast-growing trees for wood fuel such as pellets)
• Agricultural «energy plantations» (e.g. selected crops for production of bioethanol or biomethane),
• Intensive pig manure production and sewage sludge (fermented to produce biomethane or burned for heat production)
• Forest industry and agricultural by-products and residues, food-processing residues, industrial wastes, municipal sewage and household garbage buried in specialized landfills (for biomethane production) or simply burned (for process heat production).
The inherent biological value of biomass is greater than the energy actually recovered from its destruction by combustion. This is especially true in today's context of squanderous energy consumption. Human activity on our planet is destroying its biomass. Maintaining a certain quantity of biomass within the biosphere helps maintain a natural balance, particularly in the matter of temperature stabilization. Below a critical biomass threshold, meteorological instability will doubtless amplify on our planet, with incalculable consequences.
Fifty years of intensive chemical-dependant agriculture has only aggravated the consequences of overgrazing and massive deforestation perpetrated by man for centuries, even millennia. Since the onset of civilization, the fertile regions of each continent haven't stopped shrinking. It isn't exaggerated to say that there is an intimate link between humanity and humus. Most human migrations and bloody wars are ultimately the result of soil degradation due to the disappearance of humus.
In contrast to pre-modern human history, humanity today has no new frontier to conquer or develop – meaning none to destroy. We have come to a point where we absolutely need each kilogram of animal and plant biomass to regenerate our ecosystems. Farmland's humus content and that of forests have dropped to 10% of their value a century ago. Even if no one seems to admit it, that drop is the fundamental cause of our current water problems, including its pollution by nitrates.
The destruction of animal biomass (including human dejecta) on the pretext of wastewater treatment (even using plants!), and that of plant biomass for energy production are setting up grave unbalances to the biosphere, such as floods, droughts and desertification. Massive biomass destruction will also be amplifying global warming since it discharges lots of CO2 in the atmosphere. But it mostly diminishes the regenerating capacity of ecosystems that would likely be efficient greenhouse gas sinks.
In light of this fact, the use of biofuels (biodiesel, bioethanol, biomethane, wood pellets) is a monumental waste that compromises our future.
It is perilous to thoughtlessly initiate unrestrained combustion of available biomass, without having a full understanding of the process of solar energy storage in plant biomass. This doesn't mean that we must give up biomass as an energy source. At the most, we must take a different approach. Plant biomass can provide substantial low temperature energy, for heating.
Even if most scientists ignore this, increasing experimental observations tend to show that during photosynthesis, plants store more solar energy during photosynthesis than that which can be recovered by simple combustion. This paradox has not found a conclusive scientific explanation. Confirmation of those observations would open up encouraging perspectives for bioenergy development, without unbalancing the biosphere.
Photosynthesis: Biological Cold Fusion?
On this matter, I formulated a hypothesis (yet to be confirmed) in which I proposed that parallel to the chemical reduction process (by electron transfer) involved in the synthesis of cellulose, plants seem to store more solar energy by another process, which is no doubt explained by the works of a French physicist, Louis Kervran. The process would involve a form of biological cold fusion.
This cold fusion energy can only be recovered by a biological system that works with the help of aerobic bacteria. Biomass combustion obviously annihilates such a possibility. That is the reason why, surprisingly, the efficiency of solar energy storage in plants appears weak (1 to 4%) when measured on the basis of the energy yield from direct combustion.
When measuring the yield of a biological system like the Jean Pain method for composting, the low temperature energy recoverable exceeds that energy that would have been obtained by combustion. This was measured a few years ago in Londerzeel (Belgium) by the Comité Jean Pain (an NGO that promotes the Jean Pain method). The centre of the compost pile remained above 60°C for months, producing hot water at around 40 to 50°C. This has to be supported by further documentation and research. It will be useful to improve the heat recovery by selecting specific bacteria for this purpose.
Even if my theories were eventually disproved, experimental observations remain conclusive: composting using the Jean Pain method generates quantities of energy that are comparable to those obtained through direct combustion. The difference is that during combustion, all carbon biomass is transformed into CO2, whereas by composting, the end product can be used to regenerate farmland and forests, and even help in reclaiming deserts.
If we want to use plant biomass to produce energy, the most rational approach appears to me to be heat recovery through composting, to heat buildings and greenhouses, for example.
In this way, we could enhance ecosystems' role as atmospheric carbon sinks while simultaneously reducing CO2 emissions, and yet recover as much energy as we would have obtained through biomass combustion, and maybe much more, for the sake of our planet…
This is Why for Years, I Have Proclaimed:
« Bioenergy development – at least in the present context – is an immense waste. The inherent biological value of biomass is far greater than the energy we can obtain from its destruction. »
In the biosphere's best interest, it is unadvisable to burn wood pellets, biogas or other biofuels. The composting approach would also provide the means of valorizing animal- and plant-sourced biomass. Liquid pig manure and our toilet effluent could be impregnated on plant litter, no doubt constituting the most rational way of eliminating this organic waste. This is the ultimate justification to suppress WC flush tanks and generalize the use of proper dry toilets.
By upgrading forest floors with the compost thus obtained, forestry production per hectare could be improved, enhancing the woods' role as a carbon sink and a means to counter global warming : as opposed to direct combustion of wood and biofuels, which aggravate global warming.
In addition, in those regions with cold winter seasons when energy consumption for space heating can be substantial (e.g. 60% in Brussels and Montreal), people in those regions can appreciate that using composting for heating could cover much of their needs, while at the same time regenerating the land.
Governments from many industrialized nations are currently promoting biofuel production. In a relatively near future, it is to be feared that this endeavour will compete directly with world food production. We will be at the crossroads: feed the population of the poorer countries, or feed the energy squandering of the richer countries.
Back to the Site Map