April 21, 2004 | General

Developing The Bioenergy Industry

Michael Doran
BioCycle April 2004, Vol. 45, No. 4, p. 75

In May 1999, The Irish BioEnergy Association (IrBEA) was formed to promote the bioenergy industry and develop this important sector in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The overall aim of IrBEA is to promote biomass as an environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable indigenous energy resource and also to promote its nonenergy related benefits.
The objectives of IrBEA are to: Improve public awareness of biomass as a realistic option for energy supply; Influence policy makers to promote the development of bioenergy; Promote the implementation of bioenergy projects; Network and share information amongst those interested in bioenergy development; and Communicate with similar interest groups.
The organization – a self-governing association of voluntary members – is affiliated with the European Biomass Association (AeBIOM). At present, there are approximately 120 members, both private and corporate.
Policy development both within the Republic and Northern Ireland has been “broad brush” with little focus on bioenergy from agriculture. There has been an over emphasis within the delivery mechanisms on electricity production. This has arisen primarily because electricity is regulated in both Northern and Republic of Ireland. However, it is now generally accepted that biomass can deliver heat more efficiently in the short term, than it can electricity.
Energy policy development in the Republic of Ireland has been quite different from that in Northern Ireland. It is useful to look at the development of energy policy within the two jurisdictions.


In 1996, the UK Government published the National Biomass Energy Strategy, which set out their plans for encouraging development of energy production from biomass to the year 2001. The strategy focused on identifying research required to develop commercial deployment of energy crops, and the development of conversion technologies that could improve the efficiency and competitiveness of biomass energy in the longer term. This strategy was developed by the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (MAFF) in London but was not implemented regionally within Northern Ireland.
In December 1997, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed, in Kyoto, by 171 countries, including the United Kingdom, of which Northern Ireland is a part. The European Union has agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8 percent by 2012 using 1990 as a baseline. Following the publication of a green paper, the European Commission issued a white paper in 1998 entitled “Energy for the Future — Renewable Sources of Energy”. This proposed a doubling of renewable energy production from 6 percent to 12 percent of the EU’s total primary energy need by 2010. Political agreement on the targets was reached at the Energy Council in December 2000, and these targets were subsequently included in EU directive 2001/77/EC.
Northern Ireland began reviewing its overall energy strategy in 1992 with publication of a document entitled “Energy in the 90s and beyond”. This document was concerned with energy efficiency, clean energy, lowering costs, diversification of supply and security supply. It acknowledged that renewable energy could help achieve the objectives of clean energy production, supply diversification and security of supply. This was followed in October 2001 by a Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment document entitled “Renewable energy in Northern Ireland — Realizing the potential”.
The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) in Northern Ireland is currently drafting an Energy Strategy. It is due for publication in summer, 2004 and is likely to have a significant impact on bioenergy from agriculture. As forestry is still under the control of DARD, this policy will also examine the contribution that traditional forestry can make to the energy field.


Energy policy (renewable energy included) became part of Irish economic policy in 1973-1974, when the world was confronted with the first oil crisis. After the second oil crisis in 1979-1980, energy saving and diversification of energy sources for electricity production were the leading themes. In the period of 1985-1994, Irish Government support for energy saving and renewable energy decreased, particularly because of low energy prices, diversification of fuel mix and suppliers and the discontinuation of subsidies.
After this period, new policy publications were issued, such as Renewable Energy — A Strategy for the Future in 1996. Following publication of the EU The White Paper & Action Plan for Renewable Energy in 1997, the Irish Government published in 1999 Green Paper on Sustainable Energy. This Green Paper called for a significant increase in the contribution of renewable energy to meeting Ireland’s energy needs and set targets for new renewable electricity generating capacity, which would see a doubling of the contribution from renewable energy from two percent in 2000 to some four percent by 2005.
Security of energy supply is now a major issue for Ireland. In 2000, Ireland imported 86 percent of its energy needs and this will increase to 94 percent by 2010 unless there is a major increase in the deployment of renewables. The Irish economy is currently over 50 percent dependent on oil products with only three percent coming from its own renewable resources. Adding to this existing over reliance on energy imports and fossil fuels is the fact that Irish electricity demand is rising by 20 percent every five years. Renewable energy will have to play a major part in the energy supply system in future if this situation is to change. Not until recently have the Irish Government and the Irish energy sector taken up renewable energy as an integral sustainable theme and challenge. Because of the ample availability of cheap natural gas and the relatively clean character of this fuel, developing renewable energy in Ireland has been characterized by a very slow start.
It is evident that generation of energy from agricultural sources has been vastly overshadowed by generation of electrical energy from wind sources within Ireland, both North and South. The renewable energy policies mentioned previously have stimulated a remarkable growth in wind energy but have had little effect on energy production from agricultural sources. (See Table 1.)
Ireland has the capability to produce energy from short rotation forestry, wood wastes, sugar crops, starch crops, herbaceous lignocellulosic crops, oil crops and agricultural wastes. It has the potential to produce a theoretical maximum of 900MW per annum from agricultural sources but at present this figure is only approximately 5MW (a figure of 100MW is probably a more realistic figure in the next ten years). The EU hopes to produce six percent of its total energy requirement from biomass by 2010 and 10 percent of the total energy requirement by 2015.
To date, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have developed separate policies for the encouragement of renewable energy generation. There has been some cooperation on the harmonization of legislation affecting electricity generation and supply, and an electrical interconnector has been set up. The interconnector is capable of operating two circuits with a theoretical capacity of 1,500MW; however, this usually operates at around 900MW for security reasons. Again the focus of policy cooperation has been on electrical generation and transmission. There has been virtually no cooperation on policy initiatives between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland on biomass, or bioenergy from agriculture, despite the fact that the agricultural conditions are broadly similar. There has also been a distinct lack of coordination between the relevant government departments within each jurisdiction.
Sustainable Energy Ireland, which was originally the Irish Energy Centre, has been largely successful in promoting environmentally and economically sustainable production of energy in the Republic of Ireland. Unfortunately a similar organization does not exist in Northern Ireland. Sustainable development and the establishment of a secure energy infrastructure cuts across Departments of Finance, Regional Development (NI), Agriculture, Energy and Environment within both countries. However, there is no long-term focused strategy in either country to develop bioenergy from agriculture.
We believe that bioenergy from agriculture can, and should, play a significant part in the development of renewable energy production in Ireland, both North and South. This can only be brought about using all of the following: Legislation to ensure compliance and create a regulatory framework that recognizes the value of bioenergy as a sustainable contributor; Financial inducement to encourage the establishment of a market infrastructure that will support the development of a bioenergy from agriculture; and Increase in public awareness that highlights the opportunities that exist to use waste agricultural products as an energy source, and the socioeconomic benefits that can be derived from generating energy from crops such as short rotation willow.
Land use, soil types, climate and resources are generally similar between Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland agriculture has more in common with the Republic’s agriculture than it does with traditional farming on the British mainland. It is therefore important that policy development and strategies for delivery of bioenergy are properly coordinated between the Republic and Northern Ireland. Both jurisdictions are at the bottom of European league tables for the percentage of energy production from renewable sources, for the percentage of energy produced from agricultural wastes and for the percentage of energy produced from recycled products. The Republic and Northern Ireland therefore have a considerable amount of “catch up” before they are performing as well as the European average. The island of Ireland will be severely exposed with regard to security of energy supplies as it becomes more dependent upon imported gas. Bioenergy can go a long way to resolve this problem but it requires committed, long-term strategy.
Michael Doran is the Business Development Director for Rural Generation Ltd., a small R&D company based in Northern Ireland, and also works with the Irish Bioenergy Association.

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