Jeremy Woods of Imperial College talks about the SCOPE Bioenergy and Sustainability Initiative which he has been involved in over the past couple of years.
“Bioenergy is a notoriously complex topic being both wide (multiple feedstocks, conversion technologies, geographic locations and energy services can be provided) and deep (sometimes involving very long supply chains with diverse spatial, temporal and technical components). Evaluating bioenergy’s potential therefore requires an inherently inter- and multi-disciplinary approach to understand the impacts of its expanded or altered use from the global to local scales.
Since the turn of the millennium, and in some cases well before that, there has been a concerted policy effort around the world, to stimulate the supply of heat, electricity and transport fuels from bioenergy. The scientific literature is highly contradictory when it comes to assessing the positive and negative impacts of the recent expansion of modern bioenergy and even more so when it comes to predicting the future impacts, with the importance of poly-generation and heat provision, particularly in food supply chains and not simply for cooking, often being missed.
In order to try to establish a level of scientific consensus on the future potential for bioenergy, focusing on the environmental impacts, the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE; http://www.scopenvironment.org/ ) established a new initiative ‘Bioenergy & Sustainability’ in 2013 as a collective multi-disciplinary effort with contributions from 134 authors based in 81 institutions and 24 countries.
This new SCOPE volume on bioenergy reports on an assessment that included a meeting held at UNESCO, Paris, in December 2013 and two preparatory meetings in São Paulo, Brazil. In Paris, 50 experts from across the full spectrum of environment-related areas, discussed bioenergy sustainability covering the whole chain and in particular the cross-cutting aspects that are critical to meeting societal needs. Background chapters were commissioned to provide context, raise important but often over-looked issues, report on status and technological developments for bioenergy expansion. Background themes were chosen so that the report would cover the whole scope of bioenergy from land use and feedstocks, to technologies and impacts. They represent a selection of topics authors considered the most relevant to enlighten decision-making based on current scientific knowledge on bioenergy. The volume assesses how bioenergy expansion might impact on the energy security , food security , environmental and climate security, sustainable development and innovation nexus. And most importantly the authors highlighted important gaps of knowledge, critical areas of uncertainty and suggests the science needed to maximize bioenergy benefits. The full volume will be launched in April 2015.
Bioenergy is often the fuel of last resort and for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable it is often the only fuel available for cooking, lighting and heat. Tremendous technological advances are taking place now and which will continue into the future and it is possible to envisage transitional pathways from the traditional biomass the world’s poor are so reliant on to modern low carbon bioenergy service provision embedded within an integrated renewables-dominated energy landscape. Participating as an author and on the science advisory committee for the development of the new SCOPE Bioenergy and Sustainability volume has been an exciting, often challenging and ultimately highly fulfilling activity. Bioenergy is here to stay but the science we choose to apply and develop and the investments we choose to make from the local to global scales will ultimately define its role in human development. This new SCOPE activity has shown what can happen when a holistic multi- and inter-disciplinary, solutions-based approach is taken to understanding and promoting highly complex topics such as bioenergy.”