Bio4Energy and its partners could be a sounding board and a KentaroUmeki EcaudorREN 713Kentaro Umeki, a biomass gasification researcher in Bio4Energy, tells mainly Latin American renewable energy stakeholders meeting in Quito, in July, about the Swedish energy system and the contribution of Bio4Energy. Photo by courtesy of Kentaro Umeki.
source of technology transfer for Ecuador, as stakeholders in its government and academia prepare to step up action on plans to reduce the heavy dependence of its country's energy sector on hydrocarbons for heat, power and automotive fuels, a B4E researcher has suggested. Technology designed to make two or more energy-dependent industrial processes function smoothly together—such as in a combined heat and power (CHP) operation—or guidance on the way in which to apply system analysis on energy production pathways, could be especially in demand.

This is according to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., an assistant professor at the Luleå University of Technology in Sweden. Late July, he described not only B4E, but also the Swedish energy system to a 100-delegate-strong international meeting in Quito, the Ecuadorian capital. It had gathered to shore up renewable energy contacts in view of kick starting the work to realise a “sustainable energy and energy transition” in the oil-producing nation ensconced between its larger neighbours Colombia and Peru, on the northern stretch of Latin America’s Pacific coastline.

In Quito, at the National Technical University, experts on Latin American and European energy systems traded notes and outlined the policy context, while national or regional actors described planned or ongoing energy infrastructure projects and initiatives to save energy. The choice of meeting place was unlikely to be an accident: The public university of 12,500 students is the country's second oldest and thought of as the "first research centre of Ecuador and was created [for] the purpose of contributing to the scientific and technological development of the country", according to Wikipedia.

For his part, Umeki said he sensed an upbeat mood and a determination among renewable energy stakeholders to push ahead with an energy agenda that included a more encompassing view of sustainability, addressing also environmental and social issues. He put this down to the “favourable economic situation” and the “chaotic traffic situation”. Meeting participants had been especially interested in guidance on the way in which to apply system analysis, for instance to check environmental impacts of products over their life cycle, Umeki noted. B4E has top-of-the line expertise in both, on its Process Integration and Environmental Platforms, respectively.

Although the World Bank describes Ecuador as a country still fraught with poverty and inequality, it also points to average annual economic growth, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP), of five percent per year between 2001 and 2008, with a similar level being supported after a dip in GDP in 2009. However, according to a 2011 Observatory of Renewable Energy in Latin America and the Caribbean, commissioned by the Latin American Energy Organisation (OLADE) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), oil is king, carrying the economy and, in 2009, supported 82 per cent of the country’s energy consumption “within the Ecuadorian energy grid”.

Renewable energy picture

As for renewable energy capacity, in 2009 hydropower supported eight per cent of primary energy supply, corresponding to roughly two-fifths of the country’s “total capacity” for renewable energy production, according to the OLADE-UNIDO report. Of this electricity production represented 2032 Megawatt (MW). (The report speaks only of ‘Megawatt’ and not of ‘Megawatt hours’, Editor’s note.) Only a fraction of total capacity came from biomass-based and wind power production, where the electricity component of the biomass-for-energy output represented 95.5 Megawatt obtained by burning bagasse in combined heat and power operations, the OLADE-UNIDO report said.

This could be about to change, Umeki said after having attended the sustainable energy transition meeting in Quito. 

“Ecuador has lots of ongoing projects. More than ten hydropower stations will be built in the Quito area in the next three years and there are also some biomass projects [underway]”, he said.

While infrastructure development would be the government’s focus initially, in the heat and power and transportation sector both, biofuel sourcing would be an important second step, Umeki added;

“Infrastructure is the most important part, particularly for public transport. Everybody is using a car. Diesel particulate emissions from cars, buses and trucks are a serious problem. Regulation is needed and, as a second step, a fuel switch… Heat and power is [a relatively] easy first step. The most difficult part is transforming the transport system.”

The latter took a 61-per-cent share of national energy consumption in 2009, according to OLADE/UNIDO. As far as domestic heating installations went, Umeki said liquefied petroleum gas was frequently used in boilers in households and industry.

B4E and partners could transfer technology and skill

When it came to accessing renewable energy technology, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA Ecuador) had expressed interest in being connected with Sweden-based experts such as those in B4E, Umeki revealed. In fact, the IICA had followed up the Quito meeting by sending an outline of IICA-coordinated projects in the Energy and Environment Partnership on the Andean Region, as an invitation to further contacts and a possible collaboration.

“Sweden is quite an advanced country [when it comes to] energy efficiency and renewable energy. So [the Ecuadorian stakeholders] especially want to know about the experience in Sweden”, said Umeki, himself a national of Japan.

This ‘Swedish experience’, in turn, has been made possible by the Scandinavian nation’s rich natural resources and successive governments’ policy to encourage their use (along, it should be said, with the continued use of nuclear power). Development of hydropower, and bioenergy sourced mainly from forests, as well as biogas production based on agricultural and municipal waste, had allowed Sweden to meet and surpass its national target, set at the EU level, for Sweden’s energy mix to contain 49 per cent renewable energy by 2020, one of Umeki’s presentations to the Quito meeting said.

For its part, B4E could assist Ecuadorian academics or industry representatives by sharing knowledge on “how to utilise agricultural biomass waste and how to make it sustainable”, starting from agricultural by-products such as rice husks, corn stover or harvest residues from palm plantations, Umeki went on.

“And there is another thing. Not only Ecuador, but also Bolivia, Colombia and Venezuela are part of the [IIAC’s] Andes energy transnational cooperation” and could be potential cooperation partners, he suggested.

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