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Logging residues could slash Swedish HDV emissions by 90% – new study finds

New research from the University of Gävle in Sweden shows that unused forest residues can be used to generate large amounts of biofuel, and, in the long run, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from heavy transport on Swedish roads by 88-94 percent.
“Here is a large and untapped potential,” says Shveta Soam, a researcher in environmental engineering at the University of Gävle and one of the authors of the article.

In Sweden, research from the University of Gävle has found that unused forest residues can be used to generate large amounts of biofuel, and, in the long run, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from heavy transport on Swedish roads by 88-94 percent. With an estimated forestry residue potential of about 145 million tonnes annually, the EU has the potential to support the deployment of hundreds of such biorefineries. REWOFUEL is an EU co-funded Horizon 2020 R&D project that aims to convert softwood logging residues into advanced biofuels such as green gasoline and biojet fuel.

Heavy road transport currently accounts for a significant part of Sweden’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and while biofuels make up around 21 percent of the total fuel consumption in the Swedish transport sector, their use has been criticized. In particular, the use of biofuels derived from food crop feedstock such as cereal grains or palm oil and its derivatives.

However, it would be possible to significantly increase the proportion of biofuels within the transport sector without increasing the strain on the environment and the climate, according to a recent article “Considerations on Potentials, Greenhouse Gas, and Energy Performance of Biofuels Based on Forest Residues for Heavy-Duty Road Transport in Sweden” published in the journal Energies – Special Issue European Biofuel Production, Conversion, and Economics.

We have investigated the potential of sustainable use of logging residue, that is branches and treetops that are currently left behind in the forest, said Shveta Soam, a researcher in environmental engineering at the University of Gävle and one of the authors of the article.

“Two-thirds left untapped”

In the process of harvesting trees, large amounts of forest residue are left behind in the forest, and the potential for using this residue for biofuel instead is significant, according to the study. If sawdust from the sawmills is taken into account, which is readily available on the market and can be used to produce biofuels, the potential is further increased.

Forest harvesting generates logging residues in the form of tops and branches aka slash. Large volumes of logging residue remain unused in the Swedish forest, which according to new research from the University of Gävle could be used to produce biofuels for the heavy-duty vehicle (HDV) transport sector.

For heavy transport alone, that is trucks and other heavy-duty vehicles (HDVs) on the roads, the use of biofuels produced by forest residues in a combination with sawdust from sawmills could reduce GHG emissions by 88-94 percent compared to fossil fuels usage.

Today, two-thirds of the sawdust and forest residues are left untapped, and a lot of energy could be generated from that, Shveta Soam said.

Investments needed

To make taking care of forest residue profitable, the forest industry needs to make investments. The infrastructure needs to be improved and a plant is needed in northern Sweden that can convert forest residue into biofuels.

There is a pilot plant which produces biomethane in Gothenburg, and the technology is advanced enough, but public investments are needed in order to make this profitable and large-scale, Shveta Soam said.

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