Biomass energy: new opportunity for agriculture and marginal areas?
As it is well known, energy is essential for human activities. Despite the high level of technological progress, the increase of energy consumption, satisfied mainly by fossil fuels, raises a series of issues linked to the scarcity of oil reserves, and their growing cost, and to a delicate relationship (and dependence) with a restricted number of world regions and nations. A greater diversification of the energy supply is one of the solutions to solve these problems, especially in the field of renewable resources. Despite the fact that biofuels are still more expensive than fossil fuels, they present many advantages: they are not subject to a progressive exhaustion and their impact on the environment is very low, due to their inclusion in natural cycles. Among biofuels a relevant role is played by the biomass, a renewable resource, that is obtained from the fraction of products, waste and residues from agriculture, forestry and related industries, as well as the biodegradable fraction of industrial and municipal waste. This resource allows a relevant control of the greenhouse gas emission, a minor dependence from oil and gas resources and represents a way for the economic valorisation of local resources and a opportune utilisation of agricultural wastes. In this context, the aims of the paper are to highlight the opportunities and the bonds that the biomass utilisation involves, to analyse the main public policies adopted to boost a large-scale production and consumption, to measure the different degree of utilisation at national (Italy) and European levels and to draw future scenarios. Particular attention will be paid to the European policies starting from the 1992 reform process until nowadays, having in mind the shortage of cereals in the world market. Where possible and opportune, the situation of Italy and of the European union will be compared with that of India, mainly, as regards public decisions/programmes. The paper concludes with an analysis of the role that the biofuel production is expected to offer in terms of new opportunities to diversify income and employment in rural and marginal areas.
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