The world is now undergoing a period of intense industrialisation. This sort of rapid industrialisation has taken humanity to greater heights, but it comes at the cost of resource depletion and environmental destruction.
It is unfortunately characterised by exhaustion of natural resources, degradation of basic ecosystems, and pollution wreaking disorder to an astounding degree. Ensuring sustainable development has now become a topic of great importance to the world. In that regard, emblematic shifts have been observed in the field of industrial ecology, with resolute attention given particularly to industrial symbiosis.
Industrial symbiosis, a subset of industrial ecology, has been considered as a solution to this global crisis. It encompasses a framework in which two or more conventionally separate industrial entities develop mutually beneficial relationships wherein one entity makes productive use of material that is regarded as waste by another entity. The principal concern of this approach is increased resource efficiency. Through this process, energy consumption and material usage are optimised and waste generation is minimised. It may be dubbed as a cohesive approach that converts negative externalities, such as wastes to positive environmental externalities primarily in the form of decreased pollution and reduced need for raw material. Industrial symbiosis can thus prove to be a driver for economic development while generating environmental benefits through reduced consumption of resources and reduced amounts of waste and emissions at the same time.
The inevitably plummeting supply of fossil fuel and the growing concern over the environmental and social impacts of greenhouse gas emissions have led businesses and public authorities to focus on how energy may be generated sustainably, leveraging on industrial symbiosis. Industrial symbiosis has un-harnessed potential that can prove to be a crucial driver for shaping the energy sector. The energy and the by-product exchange, if managed correctly, entails a promising approach to shaping industrial activities such that they could pave the way towards a more sustainable industrial production systems.
One component that is of particular relevance to the concept of industrial symbiosis is biomass waste. The idea of industrial symbiosis is designed to facilitate the optimisation of by-product utilisation across industries, which makes biomass waste ideal for energy generation purposes. Biomass’s significance lies in the fact that it is a scarce resource. Although the total quantity of biomass generated depends on many variables such as precipitation, soil quality, choice of crop, etc, it is ultimately constrained by the scarcity of arable land. Although production of bio fuels has efficiently mitigated the dependence on fossil fuel in specific contexts, however current practices have been heavily criticized for their environmental sustainability. The industrial symbiosis mechanism can thus be employed to improve the efficiency and environmental performance of bio fuel production. Delving into the prospects of industrial symbiosis, many potential exchanges were discovered between bio fuel producers to make use of each other’s by-products through energy and material exchange. Fruitful exchange with external industries also has a sound potential. As such, industrial symbiosis can lead to environmental performance improvements through collaboration between bio fuel industry and external industries ensuring improved material and energy handling. Furthermore, the resultant adaptation of a renewable energy system will function as a utility provider for many other industries in a symbiotic network. By-products may be up cycled through biogas production processes to generate energy and additionally, a bio-fertiliser.
Presently, biomass accounts for 15% of Bangladesh’s total primary energy consumption. Biomass was the dominant energy source for the country during the early 1980s, accounting for more than 55% of the entire energy requirement of the country. Although the contribution of biomass decreased over the years due to increased use of commercial energy, it still comprises almost one-sixth of the total primary energy consumption and stands as the 3rd principal source of energy for the rural population. Renewable biomass resources are popularly touted to have significant potential to meet the energy demand, particularly in the rural areas. However, the resultant environmental degradation due to over-exploitation of biomass in meeting the need of energy in the rural areas has been an issue of concern. Bangladesh, yet, has strong scope for biomass gasification based electricity. Potentials for utilising biogas technologies derived mainly from rice husk, crop residue, wood, jute stick, animal waste, municipal waste, sugarcane bagasse, etc may be some of the promising renewable energy resources for Bangladesh. The implementation of the industrial symbiosis approach will ensure enhanced environmental improvement as well better material and energy handling. Through proper up cycling of the by-products, energy may be generated in addition to bio-fertilisers. Bangladesh has sufficient reserve of biomass, and its resultant output may be optimised by manifolds through industrial symbiosis.
Industrial symbiosis may prove to be a viable solution towards elevating Bangladesh’s energy crisis. What needs to be taken into consideration is the fact that the context in this regard is very different from that of Europe, or the US. Bangladesh is a lower middle income country with limited resources and a large population that goes beyond its sustaining capacity. The configuration of its industrialisation is such that it is dominated by a vast majority of small-scale “informal” production units. The flow of material through the informal sector surpasses the flow through organised industrial sector by manifolds. Therefore to make a large-scale impact, any tactic geared towards implementation of industrial symbiosis needs to factor in the informal sector. There exists a culture of recycling and reusing at the micro-level however it is unsafe, poorly regulated and not optimised. There are instances of informal undocumented symbiosis, but there is no presence of a formal symbiosis framework. Bangladesh has not delved into Eco-Industrial Parks (EIPs) as well. To institutionalise and establish industrial symbiosis in Bangladesh, it must be presented as a key element in the formal planning system pertaining to resource optimisation.
Particular focus needs to be placed on issues concerning resources that are in scarcity, such as water, land and particularly energy.
The writers are Assistant Professor and BS student respectively, School of Business and Economics, North South University.