Monday, October 22, 2007

Putin encourages farmers to produce biofuels: Russia as a green energy giant

October 21, 2007

For those of us who thought energy exporters are not interested in biofuels or feel threatened by them, think again. The world's largest oil and gas exporter, Russia, has called on its farmers to join the global transition to biofuels.

During his televised conversation with Russians last Tuesday, Vladimir Putin told farmers they stand to benefit from capturing part of the emerging market for bioenergy. Few countries have as large a biofuels potential as Russia, he said, given its gigantic territory which stretches across 11 time zones.

With the advent of next-generation bioconversion technologies, which succeed in turning lignocellulosic biomass such as wood and grass into liquid and gaseous biofuels, Russia, with its vast taiga and tundra, has indeed emerged as one of the largest potential producers.

Recent projections by researchers working for the IEA's Bioenergy Task 40 show the Commonwealth of Independent States (former Soviet Union) together with the Baltics have a combined sustainable bioenergy capacity of maximum 199 Exajoules by 2050 (earlier post), or roughly 32.6 billion barrels of oil equivalent energy per year. This comes down to 89 million barrels per day, or roughly the same amount as the world's total current oil consumption.

Earlier this year, Russia's agriculture minister Alexej Gordejev estimated the country has 20 million hectares of low value land available immediately for bioenergy. A short term goal would be to produce a whopping 1 billion tons of biomass for exports, roughly the equivalent of 15 Ej of energy, or 2.4 billion barrels of oil equivalent per year (earlier post). That is around 6.7 million barrels of oil per day; Russia currently produces some 9.1 million bpd of fossil oil.

Putin said he sees no objections to Russians "who work in the countryside to take some of the market share of our petroleum and gas producers".

Russia is a food exporter and will harvest around 78 million tons of grains this year. "This is a bit less than last year, but more than enough to allow for the exportation of around 10 million tons", Putin said.

For the production of bioenergy, Russia would use its vast forestry resources and land not suitable for the production of food crops, that is the vast taiga and tundra, where a range of productive herbaceous and woody biomass crops can be grown.

Russia's agriculture ministry has meanwhile begun cooperating on bioenergy with Germany's ministry for economic affairs within the 'German-Russian Agricultural Policy Dialogue'. Germany has a large know-how in the sector and is leading the development of new conversion technologies. But it has relatively few biomass resources compared to the 'green giant'.

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