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Bioenergy research puts Sweden on the map

Long-term and meaningful investment by the Swedish Energy Agency has developed the entire value chain for biomass fuels and demonstrates the profitability of using logging residues, known by the Swedish acronym "GRoT" (branches and tops), as fuel, as shown by a major evaluation conducted in 2019.

A pile of logging residues at roadside, covered with a paper wrap to aid air drying, will be used for energy at a local biomass-fired heat plant and/or combined heat and power (CHP) plant.

A fairly common sight in Sweden – a pile of logging residues at roadside, covered with a paper wrap to aid air drying, that will be used for energy at a local biomass-fired heat plant and/or combined heat and power (CHP) plant. Not all harvesting site ecologies or economies permit the removal of logging residues and at least 20 percent is to be left on site.

The Swedish Energy Agency has funded research on biomass and biofuels since 2005. The evaluation highlights the impact the research has had.

This evaluation shows that research has played an important role in the development of the biofuel market and specifically when it comes to logging residues. It is extremely important to be able to measure the impact of the research we finance, in particular when we work with long-term goals such as increasing knowledge and bringing about a change in society, said Anna Malmström, Research Officer at the Swedish Energy Agency.

Long-term focus

There has been an awareness of the importance of building up a knowledge base on how the extraction of logging residues aka slash – branches, tops and stumps – affects the soil and what environmental considerations must be taken, but also how these residues should be collected and transported in the most efficient way.

It’s a question of replacing fossil fuels and contributing to the security of energy supply, as well as recognising the value of residual products such as branches and tops. One strength has been the continuity, that a common thread has run through the large maze of research projects and through a series of programmes throughout the years, said Anna Malmström.

The calls for research support have therefore been adapted to the gaps in knowledge that need to be filled. Forest owners and wood fuel companies use the newly acquired knowledge of sustainability aspects and environmental issues.

Loading stumps and roots into a shredder.

This contributes to the collection of branches, tops, and to a certain extent stumps from the forest for use as fuel for district heating and in electricity production.

Research results inspire confidence

The Swedish Bioenergy Association (Svebio), which is a non-profit association that works to increase the use of bioenergy, recognises the importance of long-term research on bioenergy.

We have used the research to defend bioenergy on many occasions. Being able to demonstrate that research has existed for many years gives a sense of security, especially when the perception of bioenergy is demonised, said Kjell Andersson, Communications and Policy Director of Svebio.

Although a lot of research has been carried out on how to best collect logging residues, the low extraction of logging residues, especially stumps, is still down to factors such as the price of alternative fuels and transport distances.

Kjell Andersson, Communications and Policy Director of the Swedish Bioenergy Association (Svebio) here seen discussing Sweden’s approach to sustainable wood use during the 6th Central European Biomass Conference (CEBC)  in Graz, Austria.

Kjell Andersson confirms that price drives demand.

Bioenergy is Sweden’s largest source of energy, but the demand for logging residues is sometimes relatively low. For example, we have had several warm winters in recent years, with low demand for fuel. It is often cheaper to use other biomass fuel than branches and tops, Kjell Andersson explained.

Sweden recognised as a pacesetter

In the past, there has been international criticism and skepticism about using branches and tops as fuel due to doubts about the sustainability of using forest residues for energy production.

The Swedish Energy Agency’s research support has led to a knowledge of work methods and methods for collecting branches and tops from the forest, which has meant that other countries now consider Swedish forestry as sustainable. In addition, it has contributed to the EU and other international bodies and researchers reconsidering the environmental effects of bioenergy. In turn, this influences regulations and agreements that now favour all forest-based biofuels such as pellets, tall oil, etcetera and demonstrates that biofuels contribute to the goal of renewable energy, said Anna Malmström.

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