Biomass: the forgotten piece of the puzzle

Göran Gustavsson highlights the overlooked role of bioenergy in discussions about energy availability and cost reduction.

Biomass: the forgotten piece of the puzzle

The energy issue quickly came into focus last summer and autumn. Energikontor Syd (Energy Agency Southern Sweden) takes part in proposals on how energy availability can be increased and costs reduced, but bioenergy is rarely mentioned in these contexts. This, despite the fact that bioenergy is the most common energy source in parts of Europe – in Sweden for instance.

Leaving the forests unused with the aim of increasing carbon dioxide storage in the short-term, is precisely short-term. A managed forest can provide increased standing wood volume, and products that replace fossil materials at the same time. Forestry also provides by-products and harvesting residues, which, together with the final step in the value chain for bio-based products, provide valuable energy.

The total volume of wood in Europe stores large amounts of carbon, and a simple conclusion is that we should let the forest stand to increase carbon storage even more. But it’s not that simple. Trees do not absorb carbon dioxide forever, which means that the measure is short-term. With sustainable forest use, on the other hand, the standing volume can increase while the wood is also used for other purposes. The issue is complex, and it is easy to end up with a conclusion based on a single perspective without the ability to see the full picture.

Forest growth thus offers an opportunity to increase carbon storage. Another possibility is to replace the material content of manufactured products so that biomass remains in the cycle for a long time. This can mean replacing materials in packaging, clothing, or building materials – the longer the biomass is in the cycle before it is burned for energy production, the better.

The regional Energy Agencies of Southern Sweden and Northern Småland are now running a project together with the regional Linnaeus University to extend the time that biomass is in the product phase, until combustion. With the help of good examples of cascade use of biomass, the project will inspire different actors to create innovative ways to replace other materials. The initiative creates better regional conditions to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

With managed forestry, we can grow timber in Europe, and by substituting other materials, the carbon storage of European forests can increase further. Together with logging residues in the forest (which would otherwise only give off carbon dioxide in their decay), the products can be burned in their final stage to ultimately act as an important source of energy. The issue of forest management is too complex to be governed by individual directives. Here, a holistic approach is needed to manage the potential that Europe’s collective timber supply offers.

Göran Gustavsson is from Energikontor Syd, which holds the FEDARENE Vice-Presidency for Mobility and Transport.

This editorial is part of our publication “Sustainable Regions in Action 2023”. Find out more by clicking here to discover best practices from FEDARENE members as well as an overview of our activities.