Biomass is organic carbon-based material such as plants and animals harvested for use in human societies. According to the World Bioenergy Association (WBA), the world’s bioenergy potential is large enough to meet the global energy demand in 2050 but solid governance is needed if we are to nurture this industry.

Biomass is organic carbon-based material such as plants and animals harvested for use in human societies. Biomass is an integral part of the global carbon cycle. Carbon is absorbed from the atmosphere as plants grow and then released as biological matter decays or burns. These processes help to regulate the Earth's climate and as a result, management of biomass is critical due to its role in limiting the rise in global temperature. 

It is likely that biomass will help achieve ambitious targets to reduce emissions in line with commitments made under the 2015 Paris Agreement. When harvested and used effectively, biomass can maximise the removal, and minimises the release of carbon into the atmosphere. It does this in two ways; firstly, its growth removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores it for long periods of time in soil, trees and plants. Secondly, when managed and harvested in a sustainable way, biomass can reduce fossil fuel emissions to the atmosphere by directly displacing oil, coal and natural gas use, or by displacing high-carbon materials such as steel and cement. 

Globally, investment in biomass and waste-to-energy rose 18% to $6.3 billion, while biofuels rallied 47% to $3 billion, according to research company Bloomberg NEF. Indeed, according to the World Bioenergy Association (WBA), in the past decade, the number of countries exploiting biomass opportunities for the provision of energy has increased rapidly and the global use of biomass has doubled in the last 40 years. However, global clean energy investment totalled $332.1 billion in 2018 meaning biomass represents just 2% of this figure. The potential to build this area and make greater contributions to the fight against emissions is clear. 

The key to addressing climate change is collaboration. By fostering knowledge-exchange and allowing free-flow of information on 4IR technologies, particularly to developing countries, all manner of global challenges could be eased or resolved. The Mohammed bin Rashid Initiative for Global Prosperity, a programme run by the Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit (GMIS), is a prime example of ensuring a bottom-up approach to innovation that can change the world. Uniting leading manufacturers, start-ups, entrepreneurs, governments, UN agencies, philanthropists, academia and researchers in a community dedicated to spreading global prosperity through the art of ‘making’ will allow the initiative to identify ideas and solutions that have the potential to positively contribute to global well-being. 

Due to its flexibility, several entrants to the Mohammed bin Rashid Initiative for Global Prosperity focused on innovations in the biomass sectors. Otago for example, manufacturers char-briquettes out of recycled biomass waste including coconut shells, that is able to burn without smell for smoke for longer than wood charcoal. Illegally harvested wood charcoal is the main source of energy for domestic cooking in urban Cambodia, and more than 200 tons of it are brought into Phnom Penh every day, resulting in thousands of hectares of natural forest being devastated. 

The char-briquettes offer a high quality and sustainable alternative to wood charcoal that help to reduce CO2 emissions and improves end-users health. In 2018 the use of these char-briquettes in Cambodia saved 19,000 tons of CO2 emissions and a forest area equivalent to 500 football fields.

Over in India, farmers traditionally burn the un-needed straw of paddy fields, generating between 500-550 million tonnes of crop residue produced every year. They burn the residue as a way of clearing a field quickly and also killing weeds that are resistant to herbicides. However, this practice results in a loss of nutrients from the fields, it pollutes the atmosphere with smoke and damages the microbial balance of the environment. But A2P Energy works with farmers to turn this biomass into useful energy by taking the straw to produce pellets such as energy and soil conditioners for energy generation. 

A2P also drives an outreach programmes to work with paddy farmers to educate them on the benefits of utilising biomass in this new way. By giving the farmers a way of generating income from their waste products that were previously burnt, the organisation is directly reducing carbon emissions whilst using an innovative way of boosting future harvest. In doing so, between 2017 and 2018, their CSR team started a pilot project that prevented 300 acres from burning. 

Managing biomass stocks is an important component of global climate mitigation strategies yet it is currently a highly undervalued form of renewable energy. The adoption of bioenergy as a greater element of the energy mix depends on improved governance. For instance, the future potential for energy from biomass depends on land availability and currently, the amount of land devoted to growing biofuels is only 25 million hectares or 0.19% of the world’s total land area. This land area must be increased to increase carbon stocks in trees and soils, as well as to increase the supply of sustainable harvested biomass, yet stronger governance is required to ensure this happens in practice. 

Biomass management must be part of a system of sustainable land use that requires carbon stocks in plants and soils to increase over time. If the biomass resources are not carefully maintained, it will cause damage to the balance of ecosystems. Indeed, according to the Committee on Climate Change, without proper governance, there are risks that biomass production and use could, in some circumstances, be worse for the climate than using fossil fuels, as depleted plant and animal stocks caused by mismanagement of biomass resources prevent the natural neutralisation of carbon in the atmosphere. 

According to the World Bioenergy Association (WBA), the world’s bioenergy potential is large enough to meet the global energy demand in 2050. When used effectively, biomass can be used to produce different forms of energy such as power, fuels, heating and cooling, thus providing all the energy services required in a modern society. It provides an effective option for the provision of energy services with wider socio-economic benefits accrued go beyond energy provision - from creating unique opportunities for regional development to generating new revenue streams from waste. Consequently, bioenergy could be the solution to economic, national, environmental and political security, creating greater global prosperity that leads to a happier and healthier planet. 

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