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  • Hall, David O.


In the last century, biomass fuels - mostly wood - provided most of the world's energy. Today biomass in all its forms (wood, dung, and agricultural and forest residues) supplies about 14 percent of our energy - most of it in developing countries, where biomass is the most common energy source. Biomass provides more than a quarter of China's energy, for example. Rural areas in most developing countries depend heavily on biomass for energy. A dearth of biomass energy usually indicates other developmental and environmental problems. The difficulty in trying to ameliorate such problems is that bioenergy may not be a priority for local communities,which have more pressing problems or are unable to take the longer-term view toward rehabilitating their biomass resources. But outside energy experts tend to focus on one aspect of biomass use to the exclusion of all others, and therefore many biomass energy projects and programs fail. The author presents case studies showing that local involvement and control is a prerequisite for the success of such programs. There is an enormous untapped potential for biomass, and bioenergy systems may be less irreversibly damaging to the environment than conventional fossil fuels. Bioenergy systems produce many but mostly local and relatively small impacts on the environment and their impact is more controllable. There is no short-cut, however, to long-term planning and development of biomass energy systems. And the barriers are many: economic, social, and technological. Modernizing biomass technologies, for example - so biomass can be used for liquid fuel, electricity, and gas (in addition to its traditional use as a heat source) - involves land use issues that make implementation of biomass projects more difficult than projects involving more centralized energy resources. But both traditional and modernizied biomass energy systems need developing to produce preferred forms such as heat, electricity, and liquids. Biomass energy should be modernized more rapidly, and at the same time traditional biomass fuels should be produced and used as efficiently as possible - both in a sustainable manner.

Suggested Citation

  • Hall, David O., 1992. "Biomass," Policy Research Working Paper Series 968, The World Bank.
  • Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:968

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Grubb, M. J., 1990. "The cinderella options : A study of modernized renewable energy technologies Part 2-Political and policy analysis," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 18(8), pages 711-725, October.
    2. Gowen, Marcia M., 1989. "Biofuel v fossil fuel economics in developing countries : How green is the pasture?," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 17(5), pages 455-470, October.
    3. Hall, D. O., 1991. "Biomass energy," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 19(8), pages 711-737, October.
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