Sweden, Minnesota seminar highlights bioenergy

By Anna Simet | May 20, 2014

Sweden and Minnesota are moving full speed ahead on a partnership that is serving to address complex and challenging issues concerning sustainable energy and transportation.

A May 19 seminar held at the American-Swedish institute in Minneapolis, Minn., brought experts, advocates and stakeholders together for an intimate discussion on potential and existing parallels between Sweden’s and Minnesota’s approaches to expanding the use of renewable transportation fuel, including policy drivers, best practices and current and future opportunities.

Minnesota Trade Office executive director Kathleen Motzenbecker began the conversation by highlighting the progress Minnesota has and is making on bioenergy, pointing out that the state is one of four U.S. states selected by the National Governors Association to develop new strategies to build on existing strengths and accelerate jobs in clean energy.

That progress includes work of the Minnesota Statewide Wood Energy Team, which is working to advance high-efficiency wood energy systems in locations reliant on delivered fuels,  Motzenbecker said, and a three-year state grant program is helping open new markets for Minnesota’s forest resources, promote economic viability and increase usage of renewable energy while reducing overall energy costs. “The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, in partnership with 22 private state and federal organizations, will use the grants to lay groundwork toward installation of wood energy systems not yet connected to natural grids,” she said.

Providing a brief overview of Minnesota’s bioenergy landscape, Motzenbecker said the state currently has 30 MW of biogas-fuelled electricity production from nine landfills, 12 biomass-fuelled combined-heat-and-power facilities permitted for 135 MW of power capacity, and is a national leader in production and use of ethanol and biodiesel. “Though we’ve been making progress, there is much more that we can do and that we’re planning to do,” she said, adding that she hoped the seminar would lay the groundwork for continued trade and investment between Minnesota and Sweden, which ranks 26th in Minnesota’s export markets with $114 million in exports over the last year, a 40 percent increase over the last decade.

Following Motzenbecker, Swedish Ambassador Björn Lyrvall discussed correlations between Sweden’s sustainability initiatives and economic growth. “Our Swedish experience is that it is really quite possible to combine sustainable and substantial growth, and minimize our ecological footprint at the same time,” he said, pointing out that from 1990, Sweden has cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 20 percent, while the country’s economy has grown by 60 percent.

Though Sweden has set lofty emissions reduction goals—no net GHGs by 2050—the country is well on its way to meet them, as it currently possesses the highest share of renewable energy in the European Union, at nearly 50 percent. “This has been achieved by combining long-term goals and long-term economic incentives,” Lyrvall said. “As one of the first countries in the world that introduced a CO2 tax in the early 1990s, and along with other measures such as ambitious targets, we’re set to increase our energy efficiency, lower our carbon emissions, increase our renewable energy, and create jobs at the same time,” he said. “But to be able to do this, we need innovation and clean technologies.” 

Ludvig Lindström, senior advisor at the Swedish Energy Agency, emphasized the importance of sustainability in Sweden, which, prior to the 1972 United Nations Stolkholm conference, was one of the most oil-dependent countries in the industrialized world. As a result, the country faced consequences such as acid rains and polluted groundwater, which today are circumstances of the past.

Things have drastically changed since Stolkholm, Lindström said, as the country has ambitiously striven to decrease CO2 emissions, particularly through increasing use and efficiency of extracting energy from waste. “We’ve had some really good results—we have managed to make use of almost all of our waste we’re producing,” he said, attributing that success taking an “integrated approach, where we look at waste and how it’s integrated and connected to energy utilization, and then how that’s connected to transport. It’s not just PR material; it’s real.”

In Sweden, waste is recycled, used in districting heating systems and combusted to make power, and 15 percent is used for biogas and fertilizers, according to Lindström. “Biogas is a concrete example of how waste can be utilized for the transport sector…wastewater treatment is where it started…the process expanded to landfills, and today we’re producing enough biogas to replace 30 million liters of petrol [annually], and also getting fertilizers.”

The best value for biogas is to upgrade it for the transportation sector, Lindström said, and Sweden began that process many years ago, beginning with city buses, and, over time, significantly expanding use in both public transport and cars. “Now, it’s common in all different cities in Sweden.”

Sweden has already exceeded renewable transportation fuel goals, reaching 12 percent in 2012 and over 15 percent in 2013, he said, adding that cooperation between the public and private sectors has been key. “We expect waste to be taken care of, but we also expect that all [citizens] should be part of the process by separating the waste…these are actually resources, not waste. “

Innovation and research will be crucial in expanded renewable transportation fuel use, Lindstrom said, adding that the country is looking at new subsidies. “In the future, it’s expected that the gas grids will be used more for biogas than natural gas.”

The event was part of the Sweden on the Road tour in Minnesota, hosted by the Embassy of Sweden and the Swedish Energy Agency, along with the Great Plains Institute and Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. It stemmed from the bilateral Memorandum of Understanding and broader cooperation on bioenergy in Minnesota signed by Sweden and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton in June 2013.