Bioenergy must become simpler for the general public

“If the world is serious in working to solve the climate challenges, there will be more bioenergy.”

That was how Douglas L. Faulkner summed up the seminar on bioenergy at the SkogsElmia trade fair, organised by Elmia and the Swedish business daily Dagens Industri.

Faulkner began by presenting the American and global perspective. As an official, politician and now consultant, he has worked with the issue for 20 years for Presidents Clinton and Bush and currently chairs an advisory committee on bioenergy in the US Congress.

“It’s been like swimming against the stream but now both parties are starting to shift in favour of bioenergy,” he said.

The theme of the seminar was Sweden’s role in a growing global market for bioenergy. Faulkner said it is important that Sweden, with its lengthy experience, takes the lead, because it is impossible to imagine a transition to fossil-free energy without the forest. Bioenergy is currently responsible for the same proportion of energy production as hydroelectric, solar and wind power combined.

His speech was followed by a debate that included leading Swedish expertise in the panel. Its members were Johanna Mossberg of the research institute RISE, Helena Johansson, Governor of Jönköping County and a forest owner herself, Alan Sherrard of the magazine Bioenergy International, Daniel Badman of StoraEnso, and Henric Demegård of Södra Skogsägarna, with Pontus Herin of Dagens Industri as the moderator.

It became clear that the Swedish challenge is not the raw material. Bioenergy is extracted from forest by-products that cannot be used for anything else. Much more of this is available than is currently being used.

“We can produce several times more bioenergy without harming nature,” Henric Demegård explained.

Why, then, are these by-products being left to rot in the forest, releasing bound carbon dioxide, instead of being used to replace fossil raw materials? One explanation was given by Johanna Mossberg:

“We’re good at researching and developing new technologies, we’re good at changing the market, but we’re not so good at producing the results of our research.”

The result is that Sweden is among the world leaders in replacing fossil fuels with biofuels but most of the latter is imported rather than being produced where the raw materials exist.

Helena Johansson added that Sweden must become skilled at looking after the whole picture by creating better conditions for innovators and entrepreneurs, so that the research results end up in production.

At the same time, it emerged that Sweden has unique opportunities to implement a fossil-free society with the help of bioenergy. The country is a limited market where all the necessary components already exist: the raw material, the chemical industry, the refineries, the research facilities etc.

The panel’s industry representatives did not completely agree with this description.

“We export 80 to 85 percent of what the Swedish forests produce today,” said Daniel Badman.

But he agreed that there is great potential to increase the share of bioenergy, and Henric Demegård pointed out that this expansion can be done without having to plant or harvest more trees.

“We’re talking about what’s being left behind in the forest and is already available now.”

In contrast, the panel members all agreed that one of the problems is that bioenergy is perceived as being too complicated by the broad general public. It is a system with many ingredients and one that can manufacture many products in parallel – from sawn timber and paper to fuels and tomorrow’s fossil-free plastics.

“At the same time, systems thinking is Sweden’s strength,” commented Alan Sherrard.

And therein lies the biggest challenge – to make the forest’s many possibilities comprehensible to politicians, the media and the general public, so that bio-based fuels and products can make inroads into the market.

Published
6/7/2019
Images
“If the world is serious about the climate challenge, there will be more bioenergy,” said  Douglas L. Faulkner, the keynote speaker at a bioenergy seminar at SkogsElmia.     The panel from left: Pontus Herin, Douglas L. Faulkner, Johanna Mossberg, Helena Johansson, Alan Sherrard, Daniel Badman and Henric Demegård.
“If the world is serious about the climate challenge, there will be more bioenergy,” said Douglas L. Faulkner, the keynote speaker at a bioenergy seminar at SkogsElmia. The panel from left: Pontus Herin, Douglas L. Faulkner, Johanna Mossberg, Helena Johansson, Alan Sherrard, Daniel Badman and Henric Demegård.