AUSTRALIA should aim to run its economy on renewable energy sources by 2051, a new analysis argues, with rural areas playing a leading role in the creation of energy from biomass.
Within 40 years, given an early commitment, 90 per cent of Australia’s transport fuel and 20 per cent of its electricity generation could come from bio-methanol or ethanol produced from wood, according to the report, “Powerful Choices”.
For this to happen, currently cleared farmland, by 2051, will need to carry 40–60 million hectares of timber in plantings tightly integrated with traditional cropping and livestock production systems.
The opportunities for regional renewal are immense if rural areas become centres of energy production in this way, he says.
While a 30 per cent loss of rural land to trees is significant, the report’s author Barney Foran points out that there is currently considerable difference between the productivity of the top 10 per cent of farmers and that of the average farmer.
“If the average comes halfway towards being as efficient as the top 10 per cent, it will address a lot of the change in land use,” he says.
Agriculture would move forward into a new mode of production, a mix that is a lot more climate resilient than the mix of just crops and animals.
There is also a powerful greenhouse gas argument for biomass energy. In a best-case scenario, a biofuels energy chain could eliminate up to 3-4 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions out to 2051.
The report suggests that another 60 per cent of the nation’s energy needs could be provided from a range of solar and wind sources, leaving only about 20 per cent of energy to be generated in other forms, possibly by high-efficiency fossil fuel processes or nuclear power.
Barney Foran, an adjunct research fellow at Charles Sturt University, undertook the eight-year analysis outlined in “Powerful Choices” because he believes prevailing economic theory ignores the physical reality of finite resources and the environmental costs of a fossil fuel-based economy.