STS - conferences, IST2012

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Navigating the transition to sustainable bioenergy in Sweden and Brazil
Semida Silveira, Francis X. Johnson

Last modified: 2012-03-20


The industrial revolution was accompanied—and facilitated by—a transition away from biomass in favour of higher density fossil and nuclear fuels. Over the past few decades, however, many countries have been promoting modern bioenergy in various end-use sectors and carriers. The shift away from traditional biomass thus no longer implies a shift away from biomass but rather an upgrading in scale and technologies and better matching to end-use requirements so that bioenergy can play an enhanced role in industrial development. In this context, it is worth analysing the elements and stages of the transition from traditional to modern bioenergy.

It is not obvious that developing countries will move quickly towards modern bioenergy. In fact, many developing countries are still following the old track towards fossil fuels and higher carbon content in their energy matrix. In this paper, we consider the transition to modern bioenergy as it occurred in Sweden and Brazil to extract lessons for other countries. Both countries have become world leaders in modern bioenergy across several sectors and with respect to both research and implementation. However, they undertook the transition at rather different stages in their economic development. The role of bioenergy as a factor affecting the industrial development process itself can thereby be compared.

We examine the historical record of the transition in each country from a multi-level perspective and in light of the path dependence that characterises large-scale energy systems. It is found that niche technologies had an important role but the key factors in the expansion of modern bioenergy in the two countries were associated with the alignment of old established structures in agriculture and forestry, with industrial actors at both national and sub-national scales. In addition, energy security was coupled with economic development objectives to define policies that have become central to the climate change debate. A continued development of these bioenergy models in line with sustainability principles has now become more than only a national goal.