• Open Access

Assessing the potential of wildfires as a sustainable bioenergy opportunity

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Abstract

As the environmental and economic consequences of fossil-fuel use become clear, land is increasingly targeted as a source of bioenergy. We explore the potential for generating electricity from biomass vulnerable to fires as an ecologic and socioeconomic opportunity that can reduce the risk of greenhouse gas generation from wildfires and help to create incentives to preserve natural and seminatural vegetation and prevent its conversion to agriculture, including biofuel crops. On the basis of a global analysis of the energy generation and spatial distribution of fires, we show that between 2003 and 2010, global fires consumed ~8300 ± 592 PJ yr−1 of energy, equivalent to ~36–44% of the global electricity consumption in 2008 and >100% national consumption in 57 countries. Forests/woodlands, cultivated areas, shrublands, and grasslands contributed 53%, 19%, 16%, and 3.5% of the global energy released by fires. Although many agroecological, socioeconomic, and engineering challenges need to be overcome before diverting the energy lost in fires into more useable forms, done cautiously it could reconcile habitat preservation with economic yields in natural systems.

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