WBA issues report on the importance of bioenergy in Europe

By Katie Fletcher | July 25, 2016

A recent study published by the World Bioenergy Association addresses the challenges European cities are facing within global climate mitigation policy and explains the contributions biomass can offer to reduce the use of fossil fuels.

The study mentions seven European cities, including Stockholm, Sweden; Göteborg, Sweden; Copenhagen, Denmark; Ulm, Germany; Pecs, Hungary; Paris, France; and Graz, Austria, that demonstrate how bioenergy is integrated into the urban energy system, whether for heating, transport, cooling or electricity purposes.

WBA stresses that the deployment of renewable energies is becoming a major political issue on the global, national and community level. In its report, WBA provides examples and concepts for the role of bioenergy in cities with more than 10,000 inhabitants in Central and Northern Europe.

“In a post COP21 Paris environment, decision makers in cities are faced with realities. The era of fossil fuels supplying the energy demand for cities is fast fading away,” said Heinz Kopetz, president of WBA. “Mayors from cities all over the world are making plans to transition to a green growth. In such a scenario, bioenergy along with other renewables plays a crucial role in this transition. These seven European cities are showing how it is done and lessons learnt can easily be replicated.”

WBA provided several principles for deployment of biomass in its report, which can be summarized into sustainable sourcing of biomass; efficient conversion and use of biomass; and priority to regional supply solutions, where possible, and national and international trade, where necessary.

According to the report, Europe consumed on average 500 billion cubed meters of fossil gas per year for the past few years, of which 35 percent was used for the generation of electricity, 40 percent for heating and 25 percent for industry and other purposes. Sixty-five percent was imported, with nearly 30 percent of Europe’s gas supplied from Russia. Between 1995 and 2012, production of natural gas has decreased 30 percent to 133 million tons of oil equivalent, and net imports have increased 77 percent to 259 million tons of oil equivalent. Gross inland consumption has risen 17 percent to 393 million tons of oil equivalent. Natural gas was shown to have 19,600 metric tons more in CO2 emissions compared to wood pellets both measured in the quantity of 100,000 gigawatt-hours (GWh) primary energy.

Although natural gas production is shrinking in Europe, European forests are growing. According to WBA, 290 million cubed meters of wood could be harvested annually from forest for wood supply without decreasing the live wood volume below its replacement. With forest growth, pellet production has also grown steadily. From 2004 to 2014, global pellet production grew 21 percent annually from 4 million metric tons to 27.1 million metric tons. Main producing regions in Europe accounted for 16.2 million metric tons in 2014 and North America 8 million metric tons. In the next 15 years, it’s estimated global pellet production will surpass 50 million metric tons.

Bioenergy logistics were included in the report. In the case of pellets, WBA provided the example of the large biomass-fired combined-heat-and-power (CHP) plant Värtan CHP8, co-owned by Fortum and the city of Stockholm, which began operation earlier this year. The CHP plant has the capacity of producing 130 MW in electricity and 280 MW in heat, or enough for 190,000 households. The plant consumes an array of feedstock to the tune of 12,000 cubed meters per day, mainly forest residues and wood waste from local and regional sources around the Baltic Sea. Due to the plant’s location, it was designed to handle fuel in urban surroundings, with a large part of the system underground in an old rock cavern used now to store up to 60,000 cubed meters of wood chips, or about five days’ fuel demand. Other infrastructure for fuel handling includes a new 200-meter pier to enable vessels up to Panamax size. The plant requires about three to four shipments per week to meet fuel demand. There are also five trains per week that transport biomass, and all of the fuel is processed prior to delivery to the power plant.

Bioenergy use in Stockholm derives mainly from heating, electricity and transport. District heating from cogeneration of heat and power is the leading heating system in the city. In fact, less than 20 percent comes from fossil fuels, the rest is from biomass, waste and heat pumps. Stockholm also uses renewable energy for transport, with public buses run on upgraded biogas, biodiesel and ethanol. Almost 20 percent of all fuel used in cars is renewable as well. Another city in Sweden, Göteborg, also has widely adopted district heating, with over 90 percent of households as consumers. Residual heat from refineries and incineration of waste are the main heat sources for district heating, in addition to biomass.

Similarly, in Copenhagen, more than 98 percent of households are connected to district heat, mainly based on renewable energy such as wood pellets, wood chips, straw, waste and geothermal as well as fossil fuels for peak demand. The WBA report shared that the last CHP unit at Avedøre Power Station will be converted to use wood pellets as fuel instead of coal, providing green heat for an additional 65,000 households in the Greater Copenhagen area by the end of 2016.

District heating is also widely spread in Ulm, Germany, with 600 GWh delivered to the grid. In 2013, 75 percent of district heating was generated with renewable feedstock, an increase from 0 percent just 20 years prior.

In Hungary, 31,000 people are served by a district heating system using 100 percent biomass. The heat is produced in two cogeneration units with a capacity of about 300 MW of thermal.

Paris’s district heat is based on geothermal and biomass. The paper provided the example of the commune of Saint Quen converting half of its coal-fired plant’s heat production to come from biomass pellets. The project consumes 133,000 metric tons of “black pellets” to generate 590 GWh of heat. About 40,000 metric tons will be sourced regionally and the rest imported.

Graz, Austria, was the last city mentioned in the report, and about 70 percent of the city’s heat is generated in a coal-fired CHP plant situated in Mellach. The heat is transported to the city in a pipeline with a capacity of 230 MW, and the other part of the heat is generated in several smaller CHP installations or sourced as waste heat from industries and a small portion comes from solar thermal installations. Graz is currently looking at other solutions (including waste heat or biomass) for future heat supply options to replace the supply coming from the coal-fired power plant.

The full WBA paper and more on each of the cities included in the report can be accessed here.