THE SLOVAK government wants to support the production of energy from forest biomass. The state considers biomass to be cheaper and more environmentally friendly than energy sources currently used.
The Economy and Agriculture Ministries, which have prepared the proposal on the possibility of using forest biomass for energy purposes, also emphasize that the current exploitation of fossil fuels is increasing, which negatively influences the environment.
Ivan Burčík, external expert of the environmental NGO Ľudia a voda (People and Water), said: "The advantages of energy production from forest biomass are unquestionable. The price of acquiring energy out of wood is only a half of that of natural gas."
Forest biomass, produced from trees, has an irreplaceable role in the decreasing of greenhouse gases, of which the most significant is carbon dioxide. When growing, trees remove this compound from the atmosphere.
"Using forest biomass for energy purposes has a neutral environmental impact. Green trees consume carbon dioxide, which they again release when they are incinerated as biomass," explained Burčík.
According to the government, Slovakia has favourable conditions for producing forest biomass energy.
"You can use almost any form of wooden materials as forest biomass for energy purposes. It can be wooden waste from, for example, the furniture industry, or it can be wood from trees raised specifically for energy purposes. There are plenty of fast-growing trees," Burčík said.
Forests in the Slovak Republic cover an area of more than 2 million hectares, which represents about 43 percent of the country's territory. Since 1970, wood reserves have been gradually growing. Today the reserves reach 432 million cubic metres. The year-on-year increase of wood reserves in 2002 was 7.6 million cubic metres.
The annual volume of wood waste from forestry that could be used as biomass is 750 thousand tonnes. The government also plans to widen the reserves by planting "energy forests", mainly of fast growing poplars and sallows, over an area of approximately 45.5 thousand hectares.
"The overall annual potential of Slovakia for the production of forest biomass convenient for energy usage will reach approximately 1.37 million tonnes by 2010," says the project proposal, on which the government is about to decide.
The Slovak government also sees possibilities in the wood industry, which produces 1.41 million tonnes of wooden waste a year with an overall energy value of 17,570 terra joules.
Wood industry factories are among the biggest energy consumers, leading proponents of the plan to believe those companies should build energy systems on the basis of wooden waste usage. Čadca, Brezno (central Slovakia), Lučenec (southern Slovakia), and Svidník (eastern Slovakia), are the regions with the highest concentration of usable biomass from the wood industry.
Apart from environmental pluses, the government also sees the potential of forest biomass in terms of country development, creating new job opportunities, and maintaining the countryside. Energy forests can also grow on territories that are damaged or are not convenient for agriculture.
In the near future, the Economy Ministry plans to introduce state assistance for technologies and projects using forest biomass for energy purposes.
These incentives can create opportunities for small and medium enterprises, but also big companies, as well as municipalities and regional administrations. The state assistance should partially cover the costs of construction, installation, and reconstruction of energy facilities or infrastructure development for biomass energy distribution to municipalities.
The government also plans to use financial resources from pre-accession structural funds of the European Union.
Burčík said that currently in Slovakia, not more than 1 percent of energy is acquired from forest biomass. In developed countries it is also still not widely used. "In western neighbouring countries it can be about 10 to 15 percent," he explained.
Alternative energy sources should help in tackling such problems as the increasing average global temperature and the concentration of carbon dioxide emissions.
Forest biomass is one such renewable energy source. Apart from mild environmental impacts, forest biomass is easy to stock and there are enough sources to acquire it.
According to UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), use of renewable energies could reach about 30 percent of the primary world energy sources in 2050.
Research by BioGen, a bioenergy industry organization in the United Kingdom, showed that biomass was the most used energy material in the period from the Middle Ages to about 1700. It was, of course, used through simple burning.
Later, it was replaced by coal, then oil and natural gas. Their consumption is expected to decrease during the 21st century. According to BioGen, in about 2060, biomass should again reach a dominant position, similar to the current level of natural gas use. In its central role it will, of course, be assisted by modern technologies.
"It is possible to transfer even 90 percent of the potential energy of biomass into energy if we have good technology. If we simply burn the wood, only 60 percent is transferred. Apart from electricity, for example, modern wooden electricity power plants can produce thermal energy as an additional product," Burčík said.
1. Dec 2003 at 0:00 | Marta Ďurianová