Amid the threat of an energy crisis looming worldwide given the rapid depletion of non-renewable energy resources such as oil and natural gas, renewable energy comes in as a potential solution to this global issue. Renewable energy or bio-energy is currently used worldwide. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the world derives 11 percent of its bio-energy from biomass, with developing nations using closer to 35 percent biomass for power. This percentage is higher still for the poorest nations that depend on burning biomass for their cooking, heating and fueling (Waili 2005). Biomass, in the energy production sector, refers to biological materials that can be used as sustainable fuel sources. Most commonly, biomass refers to plant matters grown for use as biofuel and biodegradable wastes, such as agricultural waste materials, that can be burnt as fuel.
There are a number of traditional and non-traditional biomass sources that remain underutilized for bio-energy production. There is so much potential for such traditional crops as cassava, coconut, and sugarcane to be revitalized and used as sustainable bio-energy sources. Other potential bio-energy sources are rice bran, miscanthus, switchgrass, hemp, poplar, and willow.
In must be emphasized, though, that with limited farmland, biomass production for energy must not compete with food production. The efficacy, safety and cost-efficiency of biomass production for fuel products must be considered, keeping a balance between energy production and food production. Likewise, the use of agricultural wastes for biomass conversion to energy, especially in many developing countries in Asia, must be explored fully to benefit the region’s mostly agricultural producing countries that generate lots of agricultural wastes.
In the same line, the non-traditional crop, Jatropha (Jatropha curcas L.), a hardy plant resistant to drought and pests and produces seeds with up to 40 percent oil content, has now gained much popularity worldwide as a bio-energy source. When the seeds are crushed, the resulting jatropha oil can be used as bio-diesel, while the residue can also be processed into biomass to power electricity plants. It will likewise be beneficial to many countries in the region to explore the full potential of Jatropha as a source of oil and biomass for energy.
The bio-fuel industry could have a big impact particularly in many rural areas in the Asian region as well as on the agriculture sector. The utilization of agricultural wastes and traditional and non-traditional crops have great potential for bio-fuel conversion, which at the same time can provide alternative income streams for farmers with the establishment of energy providers and processing facilities in the rural areas. Hence, it is vital to have a better understanding of the importance of bio-fuel from biomass as the new source of power for the future.