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Biomass energy goes to waste in the EU

With the assistance of Nordic expertise, the raw material could be used three times more effectively, researchers believe.

Due to the European Union's energy and climate targets for 2020, many EU countries intend to increase the use of biomass in the generation of electricity and heat. If these targets are realized without increasing the efficiency of bioenergy generation, the EU is in danger of becoming a significant net importer of biomass. This is the belief of Aalto University researchers, who in the BEST programme estimated the demand of biomass for energy uses in the EU countries up until the years 2020 and 2030.

One way to reduce imports and increase self-sufficiency is to utilize, more widely, the Nordic countries' combined expertise in heat and electricity generation.

 Large-scale co-generation plants combining electricity and heat generation are almost three times more effective in making use of biomass than electricity-only generation, explain Professor Sanna Syri and Doctoral Candidate Sam Cross from the Department of Energy Technology of the Aalto University School of Engineering.

There have also been disappointments with the efficiencies of medium-scale biomass heating equipment, for example in Great Britain.

Additional energy resources can be utilized in addition to co-generation plants when district heating and district cooling are combined. With the help of district cooling, solar heat accumulating in properties can be made use of and transferred to a district heating network.

In Helsinki, more than 90% of the fuel can be utilized when electricity, heat and cooling are generated by the same process. The best thing about the system is that in the urban area the energy lost can be recovered for better use, and the city dwellers form part of the energy generation chain, says Maiju Westergren, Environmental Director of Helen Oy, which has participated in the project.

Local energy 

In the Nordic countries, co-generation of electricity and heat is already the most common way to utilize energy from biomass. On the other hand, in many parts of Central and Southern Europe, the use of biomass in separate electricity generation is encouraged, often through generous subsidy systems, whilst support for cogeneration is often limited. According to Syri and Cross, with the help of the best technologies and co-generation of heat and electricity, biomass requirements could be reduced by 3–13 percent already in the short term. The potential could be even greater if district heating became more common in the Central European countries, replacing the use of imported natural gas in the heating of buildings.

If efficiency is not increased, in 2020 close to one third of the biomass utilized by the EU countries in energy generation may come from outside the EU's borders, Syri and Cross explain.

Improving efficiency would reduce dependency on imports, the sustainability of which is often challenging to verify.  Furthermore, the positive impacts brought by the biomass production chain to the local economy, often used as part of justification for public subsidies for bioenergy,  would remain in the area of the EU.

BEST is the bioenergy programme of CLEEN Oy's and FIBIC Oy's SHOK programmes in the energy sector and forestry industry. 

Additional information:

Professor Sanna Syri, Department of Energy Technology
Tel. +358 (0)50-599 3022
[email protected]

Doctoral Candidate Sam Cross, Department of Energy Technology
Tel. +358 (0)50 409 6615

Environmental Director Maiju Westergren, Helen Oy
Tel. +358 (0)400 276660
[email protected]

 

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