Alternative sources for products competing with forest based biofuel, a pre-study

Forest biomass is used for many products including paper based products, sawn wood products and solid fuels. The production of forest derived liquid transportation fuels is currently limited  but predicted to increase. Biomass is a renewable resource and therefore of high interest for applications such as new innovative materials, liquid and gaseous fuels. The production of various biofuels for transportation is forecast to increase and Sweden has a goal of a fossil-independent transportation system by 2030. Other, non-material, uses of forest biomass include the so called eco system services biodiversity, fishing, hunting, recreation, berry picking etc. which are also competing for forest biomass. There is currently a net growth of forest in Sweden, which theoretically could allow for an increased use of this resource. However, the amount of forest biomass is not unlimited and its harvest should not exceed its growth. Therefore, forest biomass should be considered as a limited resource and its use should aim to maximize the environmental benefit compared to the use of fossil resources. For this reason, environmental impact evaluations of forest biomass based products should include alternative sources for products competing with this resource. The pre-study reported herein included: a review of Swedish forestry and the relationships between different types of forest biomass and fuels; a workshop in which the competition for forest biomass was discussed with experts in the area; a theoretical reasoning around indirect effects and biomass potentials; and two case studies in which the theoretical reasoning is applied. Traditional assessments of environmental impacts of products and processes do not include the aspect of resource scarcity or competition for raw materials. In the case of bioethanol this has been shown to affect the results of such evaluation andthe same thing applies also to other forest biomass based fuels. The main conclusion of the study is that alternative sources for products competing with forest biomass should be taken into account when assessing the environmental impacts of forest biomass derived products. This is, however, complex as indirect effects are difficult to predict and depend on numerous factors including market situations, financial instruments, legislation and policies etc. Nevertheless, the question is important for the development of biobased substitutes for fossil derived products .

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Last updated: 2021-05-05

IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute

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