Despite the energy sector diversifying from hydrocarbons into bio-energy, wind and solar, as part of efforts to cut carbon emissions and slow climate change, an international report stated that only six crop species yield 80 per cent of global industrial bio-fuel now.
Noting that at least 2,500 species are documented sources of fuel or bio-energy among the 350,000 known species of vascular plants, the report by the Royal Botanic Kew Gardens said that maize, sugarcane, soybean, palm oil, rapeseed and wheat are just used as global industrial bio-fuel.
The study “State of the World’s Plants and Fungi” found that most of the research in bio fuel was focused on growing a handful of plants in temperate settings despite the greatest need for bio-fuels and the richest biodiversity being in low-income countries. It said that research in bio-energy was focused almost exclusively on a very small number of plants that are grown as monocultures, posing further risks to deforestation and land-use conversion, and potentially resulting in food-versus-fuel conflicts as well.
Though there is a call for bio-fuels, the report said that some of the methods used at present to produce bio-energy are harming the environment and people. It mentioned about the use of traditional wood fuels for cooking that accounts for 1.9–2.3% of global CO2 emissions.
LEADING THE WAY
In the way to future bio-fuels, the report says that bio-energy initiatives are having positive impacts on biodiversity and communities stand as examples for future initiatives. It notes the example from East Africa where indigenous tree species Croton megalocarpus nuts are used as bio fuels for electricity. It mentions EcoFuels Kenya of sourcing more than 3,000 tonnes of wild-collected nuts each year and processing the nuts to extract oil that replaces diesel in generator engines. The report also mentions Hassan Biofuels Park in Southern India that has pioneered the concept of community energy gardens. Sustainable local plant materials that are readily available to communities are matched with appropriate local bio-energy technology, the report said.
It said “identifying promising new species to match with emerging technologies for small-scale bio-energy production calls for specialist knowledge of plant and fungal taxonomy. It is possible to use an understanding of the evolutionary relationships between plant species to identify relatives of already exploited species that might have similar useful properties.”
It also mentions that Fungi have great potential within the bio-energy sector, for example expanding their current use for pre-treating woody plant material.