No Biodiversity? No Biomass
Like all new things that arrive on the horizon of our knowledge, the
writings on biomass suffer from fashions, imperfections and "points
of view" that still have to face the phase of close examination or,
if we want, of semantic purification.
The interest which has sprung up and continues to develop around
biomass is logically influenced by energy, economic, technical and
The more we enter into the meanders of Sustainable Development the
more we realise that the concepts that are at the base of this new
vision of Social Development are based upon the simple consideration
that Life needs Energy to be able to exist and develop and that this
source of Energy has to remain constant and available for the
longest period possible. The availability of energy sources is
therefore the departure point of being able to guarantee that future
generations can satisfy their own needs (Brundtland Report 1987).
But energy sources are not all equal and the principles of
thermodynamics teach us to distinguish between energy sources and
thermodynamic machines with different yield.
The use of an energy source is possible thanks to a thermodynamic
machine, that is, to a system that is able to have an input of one
form of energy and an output of a different energy form. The final
result will be to have performed a useful job for the system with an
efficiency of transformation that we shall call yield. The part
which is not transformed will be the part defined as entropy, which
is a function of the irreversibility (or, if you want, disorder) of
Up to this point everything is well; these are the elements that we
learned at school, only that when these concepts are transferred to
the ecosystem, things become complicated or, it would be better to
say, complex. By comparing the disciplines of Scientists like Leon
Brillouin, on negaentropy, Erwin Schroedinger on the theory that
organisms feed on negative energy and on Ilya Prigogine, relative to
the dissipative Structures of Energy, it has been seen that the
ecosystem is in a state of totopotentiality, and for a given
environment, it is the most efficient thermodynamic machine.
This conclusion * has also been reached by comparing the work that
Nicolas Leonard Sadi Carnot had already completed and published in
1824 and his subsequent theoretical speculations.
Now, recalling the principles of thermodynamics, we realize that
Biological Systems have become complex in order to raise the maximum
possible point of energy yield that derives from the use of solar
energy and of energy contained on our planet.
In biological systems every single organism behaves as a
thermodynamic machine. Every single thermodynamic machine of the
biological system not only uses some solar energy and terrestrial
energy, but also the "waste products" of other organisms working in
short as a "Single Living Organism."
What was not understood until today (from Politics to Research) is
that every organism is useful for the service of others.
Removing one goes to the decrement of the operation of the whole
system and the more pieces I lose, the more my Ecosystem works
In short: the value of entropy, which in biological thermodynamic
systems assumes determined values, increases as the system degrades
(loses pieces) and continues growing to the detriment of the general
yield of our biological machine. To use a term which is
unfortunately known in our cities, a degraded ecosystem uses the
energy at its disposal badly and therefore pollutes more. The
increasing value of entropy represents for all thermodynamic systems
a scale for measuring pollution and energy inefficiency.
Returning to the title of this article, it seems all too evident
that the writings on the efficiency of the use of biomass, on the
production of energy, all too frequently lack the parameters of
total energy efficiency. Referring to the yield from biomass,
references are made to various parameters but very rarely is a
complete evaluation made, and when it is it is not done in an
Scientific research has series difficulty in creating parameters for
the assessment of the energy of the ecosystem and the consultable
bibliography does not help.
The problem is that, in the evaluation of the efficiency of the
production of energy from biomass, the patrimonial aspect of energy
is not kept in mind.
An Ecosystem that has reached totopotentiality has employed a long
period, and all this time was necessary to accumulate energy in the
form of material energy. In short, the system has become complex
through biodiversity, which is simply the transformation over a long
period of time of the energy that has been accumulated. The
relativistic vision of Einstein comes towards us making us
understand that there exists a perfect equivalence between Energy
and Matter, and the studies of Ilya Prigogine enlighten us on the
nature and function of biodiversity as a fundamental asset for the
working of the ecosystemic thermodynamic machine .
Unfortunately, in the studies of feasibility and in the assessments
that we see around this methodological approach is still missing,
which is no small thing.
To give an absurd example: if today I wanted to obtain a production
of energy from biomass, admitted that a balance of energy yield has
been carried out in the smallest details (for example from
cogeneration) and I used a great extension in monoculture, even if I
were to be reassured by this type of balance, I would have committed
an impoverishment of the ecosystem with the consequent lowering of
the thermodynamic efficiency of the System. An energy balance that
does not keep in mind the patrimonial aspects (Biodiversity and
Ecosystem), as happens in Economics, gives a partial budget and, for
this reason, an inaccurate one.
Just as the aspects of biodiversification will have to be faced by
modern agriculture, it is equally inadmissible and unthinkable (from
a scientific and therefore technical point of view) to obtain energy
from biomass from systems with low biodiversity.
This is the same as saying the following:
• For "firms" to produce energy from biomass, these must be based
upon complex systems, that is, on agricultural systems that emulate
most the potential of the vegetation of the site;
• The machines that transform the energy from this production will
have to be polyfunctional, that is, to be able to make the best use
of the production and of the waste or by-products;
• The energy balance has to keep in mind of two aspects: 1 - the
traditional one, that is, the yield of the transformation of the
biomass we start from into other forms of energy; 2 - the
patrimonial one, that is, of an energy coefficient between the
potential and real biodiversity of the site.
Juridical norms, techniques and applications will have to draw
substantial leads from it.
* "Biodiversity and Power of Matter"
Dr. Agr. Guido Bissanti - Contribution on the Theme - Biodiversity
and Bioethics -
C.N.R. - National Council for Research - January 16th 2008.