Dr Floor Van der Hilst is a senior research fellow at the Energy and Resources research centre of the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development. ‘There is such a great need for knowledge: we all want sustainable energy, but we don’t know exactly how to go about getting it. With my research into the sustainability of bioenergy, I hope to be able to provide answers.’ In her research, Van der Hilst combines knowledge from various scientific disciplines with knowledge acquired through fieldwork. The resulting models show where land can be made available for biomass energy production without it competing with food production or nature.
‘Our ability to combine forces makes us an attractive international partner’
Biomass-derived energy can be a good replacement for our current energy sources: after all, fossil fuels are depleting, fuel is becoming more and more expensive and fossil fuels are a significant contributor to climate change. In addition to helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, bioenergy also helps improve energy security, develop rural areas and restore degraded soils. You can also make it large quantities and produce it almost anywhere. Yet it also has drawbacks. For example, the uncontrolled expansion of bioenergy production can lead to deforestation, loss of biodiversity, disruption of soil hydrology and competition with food production. Van der Hilst’s research and models are important because they provide substantiations towards the current debate on bioenergy and insight into when bioenergy is truly sustainable.