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Friday, December 2, 2022

Biomass is all around us, at our fingertips!

By: Dr Štefan Šumah

I remember very well how in 2008, as a development technologist, I participated in the Bioboiler project, where we developed grates for a firebox for an Austrian company that was engaged in the development of biomass burning.

You know, the Austrians have calculated that within 10 kilometres of the centre of a city with 10,000 inhabitants, enough biomass is collected (including everything collected by municipal companies during the collection of “green waste”: green clippings, grass clippings, straw, and other waste from fields…), so that with only minimal addition of wood chips by burning this biomass, they can provide enough heat and also hot water for the entire city throughout the year. A lot of time has passed since then, but during my further working career I realised that biomass is the only way to the greatest possible energy independence of Slovenia, and even today I care when I see how tractors and trucks filled with wood chips roam across border to Austria (I live near the border).

In Slovenia, there are many compact settlements (larger villages and smaller towns) where district heating with biomass could be implemented without any problems. And yet there is very little or almost nothing of this. Of course, there is a gas pipeline to every large village or small town. Yes, gas was cheap! It was, and maybe it will be again, but I highly doubt that prices will drop to the level of a year or two ago.

However, the question arises as to why gas is so forced at the expense of biomass, which often causes energy dependence (and consequently also political) on the exporting countries. A similar question also arises regarding the forcing of solar power plants by the current government, since solar power plants also do not guarantee energy independence, are unreliable, relatively poorly efficient, too subjected to weather influences, and if we take into account their production when calculating the CO² footprint (mainly obtaining the necessary raw materials for the production of solar power plants), they are suddenly no longer so environmentally friendly (most of their parts are made in China anyway, which again causes dependence on another country).

The answer to both questions can only be one: TOO LOW EARNINGS FOR ALL INTEREST GROUPS IN THE SLOVENIAN ENERGY INDUSTRY. Gas comes from far away, traveling through several countries. The gas pipeline is expensive, it is built by builders and machinists, the gas is distributed by various energy companies, and at all stages there are also various “lobbyists”, intermediaries, and speculators. It is the same with solar power plants, parts come from far away, a whole bunch of different permits and approvals are needed, various subsidies are granted… So, everyone makes good money and is happy, and the money can also flow into private pockets… There is enough butter for everyone to spread it thickly on the bread. As consumers, we pay for it and are silent or “get mad” without any effect, because we do not even dream of who exactly we should be angry at.

Biomass is a little different; biomass is all around us, at our fingertips! A farmer delivers it directly to a boiler room and does not need any intermediary, so as a result there is no room for various speculators, intermediaries, and lobbyists, because the route is too short. The flow of money is much smaller and easier to track, as it usually only takes place in one country. Well, in this case it is just bread, bread with a little butter, which is not in the interest of the various energy lobbies, which in the case of gas or solar power plants can make quite a profit. That is why they push gas and the sun! They do not care about consumers; they just see them as cash cows. They do not care about the country’s energy independence, they only care about filling their own pockets.

However, if Slovenia wants to become as little dependent on foreign energy sources as possible, it will have to use its own potential, which certainly includes biomass, since Slovenia is the third country in Europe in terms of forestation. Many European countries envy us this, but we do not know how to take advantage of it. But maybe we (under the strong influence of energy lobbies) do not even want it?


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