The World Bioenergy Award has given a lift to the work of the Brazilian researcher Laércio Couto and his team in the Renabio network.
“The award’s most important function is to disseminate research results around the world, even outside the circle of bioenergy researchers,” the prize winner says. “Other researchers have become interested in the subject, and the industry is investing in its own pilot plantations.”
He adds that the World Bioenergy trade fair and conference in Jönköping, Sweden, where the award is presented, is an increasingly important hub for spreading new bioenergy knowledge around the world.
The World Bioenergy Award was founded two years ago. Dr Couto was its first recipient, at the international bioenergy conference in Jönköping in the spring of 2010.
The award has resonated around the world and has made other researchers and companies in Brazil aware of the possibility of cultivating eucalyptus by using the methods developed by Dr Couto and his team.
Briefly, the method involves cultivating a variety of eucalyptus by planting it relatively densely and using a short rotation period. The eucalyptus is planted on land that is unsuitable for food production.
Brazil has an estimated 200 million hectares of land suitable for this type of cultivation – without affecting the rain forests. The cultivated biomass can be used to replace large amounts of coal and oil for energy production. The result is reduced fossil carbon emissions and therefore less contribution to climate change.
Spreads important knowledge
“The award’s most important function is to disseminate research results around the world, even outside the circle of researchers in the bioenergy field,” Dr Couto comments.
He adds that the World Bioenergy trade fair and conference in Jönköping, Sweden, where the award is presented, is an increasingly important hub for spreading new knowledge about bioenergy around the world.
Dr Couto says the award has meant that companies even outside the energy sector have become interested in the method, known as Short Rotation Wood Crops (SRWC). They include producers of ethanol, wood chips, pellets, and particleboard. Several of them have now launched their own pilot plantations.
A number of research teams in Brazil are now studying how eucalyptus plantations affect the soil nutrient balance, soil preparation, and whether the same method can be used to cultivate other tree species.
Key future issues in bioenergy
“Our group is currently working to develop new technology to reduce the cost of establishing this type of plantation,” Dr Couto reveals. “Together with machinery manufacturers, we are developing methods of doing one-pass harvesting and chipping.”
The team is also addressing the controversial issue that intensively cultivated eucalyptus is a monoculture, with the associated risks. The team is exploring whether it is possible to use other species and thereby achieve a greater genetic variety, while still keeping the rotation period under four years and maintaining the same energy yield.
What bioenergy issue does the award winner believe is the most important to address for the future?
“In the short term it’s important to develop methods to produce pellets and even torrefied pellets from fast-growing species in order to save land and time,” he answers, adding that in the longer term nanotechnology will play an important role also in the bioenergy sector.
Brazil has long been a society, where bioenergy plays a leading role. For example, the country was the first to see the widespread use of ethanol-driven cars. So it was no coincidence that the first international bioenergy award went to Brazilian researchers.
The competition for the 2010 World Bioenergy Award was tough, with 90 nominations from around the world. Seven of those made the final shortlist. In addition to Laércio Couto, they included Pentti Hakkila from Finland, Dilip Ranade from India, Ralph Sims from New Zealand, Harry Stokes from the United States, Bernt Svensén from Sweden and John Swaan from Canada.
The World Bioenergy Award is presented to a company executive, politician or researcher who has promoted the development of bioenergy in a decisive way through knowledge or practical action. Nominations for the 2012 award can now be submitted and the next prize winner will be honoured at the World Bioenergy trade fair and conference in Jönköping, Sweden on 29–31 May 2012.
World Bioenergy 29-31 May 2012
Organised every second year this major global bioenergy get-together is based on the unique “Taking you from Know-How to Show-How” concept, combining tradeshow, conference sessions, field excursions and matchmaking into one comprehensive event. Welcome to our web site to see conference topics and read more about the different parts of the event. Organisers: Elmia AB and the Swedish Bioenergy Association, Svebio. Venue: Elmia, Jönköping, Sweden. www.worldbioenergy.com