Leonid Melezhyk: Europe must be energy independent
Caring for the environment is the duty of every person. The Ukrainian bioenergetician Leonid Melezhyk knows this firsthand. The scientist is convinced that each of us should be responsible for the world around us. Therefore, he devoted his life to green energy. Leonid has been developing an innovative project in the field of energy independence for more than 11 years in order to improve the ecological situation on our planet.
We talked with Leonid about his project and the impact of the war in Ukraine on his future plans.
Leonid, in your speeches you talk about the enormous potential of European countries to replace Russian gas. In your opinion, can Europe be completely energy independent of the aggressor country’s fuel?
I believe that it can be completely independent, but this requires all possible options for alternative energy: the sun, wind, biogas, hydrogen and biomass. Of course, growing energy crops alone will not be able to replace such fossil fuels. But, for example, let’s consider solar energy. It is the cheapest, but its disadvantage is that it can not be stored when there is no sun, at night, and in the winter months, when the sun shines much less. Wind energy is also great, but there always should be wind. Biogas plants do not produce as much as we need. Creating hydrogen is a wonderful project, but humanity still needs to spend a lot of effort, energy and technical means to implement it.
In the program of your project you talk about the creation of industrial plantations of energy willow in Europe. Please tell us more about it.
Creating industrial plantations of energy willow, we get a lot of preferences. In economic terms, we are replacing foreign fuel with our own fuel.
But not all European countries can do this right now, because the cultivation of energy plantations without huge costs can be done in countries where the average annual rainfall exceeds 600 mm. But is it possible at all? Of course, but this will require more funds, more resources, because it will be necessary to make a system of merging for at least the first three years for these forests to grow.
According to our calculations, we see that Europe’s potential is really great. If we take only 2% of the land in each country (I want to emphasize that we take marginal land for the plantation), then we can replace 56 billion m³ of gas in Europe every year. This is 4.5 billion euros a year. European countries can save by not paying for gas abroad, but by growing their own plantations.
In addition, the environmental component is significant. Due to the fact that the plant grows, it absorbs carbon dioxide. If these 2% of the land is used to build energy plantations, we can not only get biomass from it, which can replace solid fuel and gas, we will also receive an additional 2.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide, which the plantations will absorb from the air.
Bill Gates plans to build entire factories that will absorb carbon dioxide from the air. These factories are enormously expensive. And what we do are natural factories.
If European roads are used and plantations are planted around them in the form of forest belts, it will additionally allow industries that need heat and electricity not to buy another 26 billion m³ of gas a year, or European countries can save an additional 7 billion euros each year. If the roads are also lined with these plantations, the roads will be able to absorb another 870 million tons of carbon dioxide from the air every year.
If we add everything together, it is about 6.5% of all global emissions. Bill Gates wrote an interesting book on «How to Avoid a Climate Disaster». We checked their data and realized that the potential of Europe is really huge.
When creating forests, a microclimate is created around forests, and willows and plantations contain a lot of moisture. So they also regulate the water balance. Peak temperatures in summer will be less acute around these plantations, there will be less wind and the land will become better.
In addition to economic and environmental benefits, we have an aesthetic appearance, because beautiful forests are created.
Is it possible to implement this idea in all European countries?
Yes, you can. Moreover, it needs to be done. We need to work with research institutes in all countries to make research plantations and then expand those plantations in each country.
Why are you interested in willows? Why didn’t you choose other energy plants?
This is one of the few plants that regenerates quickly and gives good results.
I am Ukrainian, I have lived and worked in Ukraine all the time. Ukraine has about 60 varieties of endemic willows. They are quite resistant to different climatic conditions. We even found a variety of willow that grows on clean sand, only a certain amount of moisture is needed.
There are still many plants that deserve the same attention as the willow. I would be happy to deal with all the plants, but, unfortunately, we do not yet have the financial capacity to deal with all the options at once. But I dream of creating a large European institute that can deal with all energy plants.
How can the state promote the development of bioenergy, in particular your project to create energy carriers of own production?
States need to allocate their specialists, funds, and land for the creation of industrial plantations. Every year we will increase these volumes, create forests that will surround us, that will benefit us in the form of wood that can regenerate and restore its work.
How did the war in Ukraine affect your future plans?
Unfortunately, it affected my plans significantly.
I had to go to Portugal with my three young children. Our research sites remain in Ukraine, there are many of them. This year we have already planned to create industrial plantations with many productions.
When Kyiv was bombed and we left the country, we took the most necessary things. And instead of things I took seedlings of energy willow. I planted them with a farmer, made a research site. I even made a small willow plantation on my balcony, now I watch it.
I hope that we will move faster to create these industrial plantations not only in Ukraine but also in Europe. Because not only is Ukraine suffering from Russian aggression, but Europe is also a hostage to gas.
We need to quickly join forces, bring together scientists and leaders, talk about this project, and plant energy willow plantations this year.