Biomass is also known as a “renewable raw material”. The special thing about the renewable raw material and a significant difference to other raw materials is that biomass is also "alive". It sounds banal, but it has far-reaching effects. For many economic uses, this point may initially be of no interest, but this special position also gives biomass an ethical dimension. Since I recently had a very interesting interview with Dr. Bernhard Widmann (head of the TFZ in Straubing), who dealt with the social opportunities and conflicts of bioenergy, I would like to investigate some moral questions. What long-term influence can the ethical dimension of modern biomass use have on its long-term development. What are the dangers and opportunities? Here are some suggestions.
Moral differences as the most important cause of current problems in the bioenergy industry ?!
Even a very radical vegan or Frutarian would not go so far as to call the food of any living being morally questionable or presumptuous. Eating biomass to be able to live yourself is widely accepted. As long as we don't find an alternative food source to hydrocarbons, it will probably stay that way.
The situation is different when it comes to the material and energetic use of renewable raw materials, where the positions diverge significantly. In my opinion, some of the biggest problems that the bioenergy industry has to face in its current development are based on moral disagreements and the resulting conflicts of interest. Here is a selection of current conflicts:
- Tank-or-plate discussion on biofuels: certainly the best known and most frequently discussed example in the media, which shows that moral issues have a strong influence on the acceptance and implementation of technically possible applications of bioenergy. Solutions offer biofuels next generation
- Deforestation: is to be completely rejected for the extraction of bioenergy resources. However, about 4% of global rainforest deforestation, especially in Southeast Asia, is due to the extraction of land for the production of bioenergy biomass (e.g. oil palm). The reputation of bioenergy suffers from this share of deforestation.
- Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) : please refer Article about the sustainability of bioenergy
- Introduction of E10: At first glance, this is a purely technical problem, which is due to concerns about the risk to your own engine. In my experience, deeper reasons are often a general rejection of biofuels.
The aforementioned moral conflicts are linked to one another. The development of the potential of bioenergy is therefore closely linked to a differentiation of these moral questions and the development of solutions.
An Indian and an engineer meet to discuss ethics
As an energy manager, timber trader or engineer in a biomass CHP plant, you cannot really openly question the material and energetic use of biomass without running the risk of undermining your own professional foundation. A professional soldier would also not be expected to adopt a basic pacifist attitude.
The Indians have very cleverly resolved the ethical conflict over the (use) of nature by humans, taking three principles into account:
- The intensity of the encroachment on an ecosystem is limited to the fact that it remains able to recover from itself (Resilience of an ecosystem).
- Complete use of the resource obtained (example buffalo) leads to an efficient use of biomass.
- Holistic approach to one's own position within nature, which leads to a sustainable use of it.
Use of biomass as a way to be in harmony with nature
Maybe that sounds paradoxical at first. The human use of raw materials often ends up in the development of industrial processes that contribute to increased efficiency and decreasing product costs. These are not necessarily procedures that sound like a "harmony with nature".
Nevertheless, I believe that above all through a more intense energetic and material use of biomass and the associated social dependency, a significantly stronger appreciation for the gifts of nature can take place. The more closely our society is connected to nature, the sooner we will be ready to take an active part in protecting it. Only when we perceive ourselves more strongly as part of the biosphere will we passionately protect it.
The technical use of the biosphere (biomass) and environmental protection do not have to be a contradiction. Things that are valuable to humans are also ready to protect.
The moderate use of biomass can contribute to the wellbeing of the entire biosphere. At this point, however, the argument almost takes on a religious journey.
Excerpts from the interview with Dr. Widmann on opportunities and the ethics of bioenergy
You can find out about the deeper cultural backgrounds of many moral conflicts associated with the use of bioenergy in the exciting interview between Dr. Bernhard Widmann and Christian Dürnberger, who conducted the interview.
Mr. Widmann is head of the Technology and Promotion Center (TFZ) Straubing. Mr. Dürnberger is a philosopher and communication scientist and works at the Institute for Technology-Theology-Natural Sciences (TTN). The TTN belongs to the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich.
Here are some excerpts from the interview:
- Bioenergy should not be seen as the cause of the hunger problem in developing countries, but should rather be seen as part of the solution to this problem.
- In the past century, a third of the arable land was needed to grow "biofuels" - namely feed for draft animals
- Food and energy are "means of life"
The interview shows that the modern energetic use of biomass has arrived in society with all the advantages and difficulties of this position. Bioenergy is also described in a socio-historical context and in addition to solar and wind energy as a formative component for our future cultural landscape.
Mr. Widmann also comments on the tasteless slogan "burn wheat" and its effect and symbolism in our culture.
But read for yourself. Here to full interview.
Thank you for the interesting conversation between Mr. Widmann and Mr. Dürnberger!
What do you think of the modern use of biomass? What should be allowed and where should the limits of technical use be?