Bio-Energy: Momentum is Building for Large Scale Development

Lead Author: Dr. Jim Bowyer

Publish date: 05.20.2005


Bio-energy is not a new idea. The first deliberate use of bio-energy occurred when prehistoric peoples discovered how to use fire to keep warm. The use of fire for heating and later for cooking, pottery making, and to provide light goes back at least 200,000 years. In the United States, wood was a principal fuel for heating and cooking as recently as 1900. Thereafter, coal, oil, and natural gas became dominant fuels. However, the oil embargo of the early 1970s resulted in marked growth of wood consumption for fuel, with volumes consumed for that purpose briefly rising to near the levels of 1900. Worldwide, the primary use of wood today is still as a fuel for heating and cooking. In other regions where wood is scarce, animal dung – another biomaterial – has long been used as a fuel.


After decades of debate about how long the age of petroleum abundance might last, it now appears that the year of peak petroleum production worldwide may be in sight. With the peak now likely to occur within one to three decades, complacency is beginning to be replaced by a sense of urgency. Alternative fuels and energy sources will soon be needed. So, too will alternative sources of chemicals and industrial feedstock now provided as by-products from liquid fuels production.