Sustainable energy: a challenge nearly as great as global warming
The goal of the Global Sustainable Bioenergy (GSB) project is to create a global advisory panel for sustainable bioenergy similar to those that exist for subjects such as climate change and biodiversity. To reach this goal, the GSB project has organized five large international conventions in 2010, the third of which ?The Latin American Convention of the Global Sustainable Bioenergy Project ? will take place in São Paulo, Brazil, from March 23 to March 25, at the headquarters of the Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (FAPESP, São Paulo Research Foundation). FAPESP and Brazilian Academy of Sciences are the sponsors of convention.
Conceived and coordinated by Lee Rybeck Lynd, a researcher at Dartmouth College and a pioneer in the study of converting biomass to energy, the GSB project involves scientists from across the globe seeking a solution to one of the critical problems of our times: how to supply the planet with renewable energy that can guarantee human progress without endangering food production and with minimal environmental impact. On the basis of preliminary findings, GSB project leaders believe that biomass (including sugarcane and other plant species) can meet 25% of global energy demand over the next 50 years.
In addition to Lynd, two more founders of the GSB project will take part in the São Paulo convention: Nathanael Greene of the U.S.-based Natural Resources Defense Council; and Tom Richard of Pennsylvania State University. The Brazilian delegation will be led by two internationally renowned scientists: José Goldemberg, currently a researcher at the Brazilian National Biomass Reference Center; and Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, scientific director of FAPESP. Goldemberg and Brito Cruz are members of the organizing committee for the scientific meetings of the GSB project.
An urgent and important debate
Renewable energy that does not interfere with food supplies and causes minimal environmental damage: that is a formula important not only to governments, businesses, and environmentalists but, literally, to everyone who lives on the planet. It is no exaggeration to say that humanity's adventure here on Earth depends on it. However, to transform this well-intentioned formula into concrete policies, we need reliable answers to a number of questions. Will heavy use of biofuels increase or decrease carbon emissions? How will production of biomass for energy affect how land is used in food production? What impact will biofuels have on the consumption of water, a resource that is in shorter supply every day? To what degree will countries with little potential for producing biomass become economically dependent on biofuel-producing nations?
It is clear that the questions surrounding sustainable energy are multidimensional, and that there are no simple answers. Therefore, the scientific community needs to debate these issues openly and in depth.
To facilitate these debates, the GSB project organized the five conferences that are taking place in 2010. At the first meeting, which took place in the Netherlands in February, the bioenergy situation in Europe was debated. The situation in Africa was debated as part of the second conference in South Africa (March 17-19). The third conference, scheduled to take place in Brazil, will focus on Latin America. The fourth convention (in Malaysia, June 14-16) and the fifth convention (in the United States, September 14-16) will address Asia and North America, respectively.
Local concerns, global solutions
The choice of São Paulo, Brazil, to host the third conference was not an accident. Brazil today is in the vanguard of energy production from biomass. Nearly half the energy used in the country comes from renewable sources, of which ethanol accounts for 16%. In the state of São Paulo, the figures are even better: renewable sources provide 56% of the energy consumed, 38% coming from ethanol. Over the last 30 years, increasing use of ethanol made from sugarcane has resulted in the share of energy coming from petroleum to fall from 66% to 33% in the state.
Drawing from the results of the five conferences, the GSB project will move on to two additional stages: 1) answering, in a definitive fashion, whether it is physically possible for us to meet a substantial fraction of global energy demand (vehicle fuel and electricity generation) through the use of bioenergy, while still feeding humanity, preserving wildlife habitat and maintaining environmental quality; 2) proposing viable and environmentally responsible strategies for moving energy use onto a balanced and renewable path.