Biofuel production from ligno-cellulosic biomass in arid and semi-arid regions

Arid and semi-arid regions present a huge scope for biomass production using suitable technologies relevant to these regions.However, mere huge availability of tracts of arid and semi-arid zone doesn't qualify it for biomass production. Factors like current land use pattern, local bio-physical conditions in these areas, demo graphic conditions, infrastructure, political environment for investments, technological advancements for arid zone crops and sustainability issues will determine the potential of these regions.

The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) has assessed the suitability of different types of biomass in arid and semi-arid regions in the project "Assessment of biomass production potential in arid zones of the world". Most of the biomass was found suitable for arid and semi-arid regions (switchgrass, prosopis, acacia, buffelgrass, napier grass, sorghum, pennisetum etc.) are rich in lignocellulose and are less controversial in the food versus fuel debate as they don't enter the human food chain.

However, these crops will compete for the resources (particularly water) with the food crops and thus a regional level of land scape planning will be essential for assigning the land under food and fuel production.

Lower recharge rates of ground water ( 80% land is available and suitable in countries like Kenya), lesser food versus fuel controversy ldue to more land availabl and selection of lignocellulosic biomass), successful irrigation technologies 1 drip irrigation in semi arid regions of Israel), beneficial yield enhancing microbes (like mycorrhiza), innovative indigenous technologies of cultivation (Tumbukiza method of planting napier grass in Kenya) are among some of the opportunities of this programme.

Among the political variables there is a low entry barrier at present for the land as a resource. Governments in recent times have shown increasing interest in formulating supportive policies for the regulation of land, and biofuel policy. From the political point of view governments have realised the benefits of biomass programmes due to its potential benefits in terms of employment creation and livelihood support apart from the usual benefits to the environment.

From the social aspect the biomass programme will create emplovmeni and have a positive impact on income generation particularly among the rural masses in these zone.

The biomass programme in arid regions should be particularly sensitive to the impact on the environment. So it is recommended to initiate some kind of pilot level projects in select arid regions which can give better insights about the actual land quality, producer perception towards such programmes, and technological difficulties faced during such interventions.