Waste & Recycling


Biomass Utilization

[From the CleanTech Canada supplement]

[From the CleanTech Canada supplement]

In early May, I was one of six international journalists who toured Sweden as a guest of the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to look at that country’s waste management, forestry and mining sectors. It was a fun trip and also educational.

In many ways Sweden is similar to Canada. The land is approximately half the size of British Columbia; forestry and mining are major industries and there is a passion for hockey.

One major difference between the two countries is the utilization of biomass. Sweden is a world leader with approximately 32 per cent of all energy generated by biomass. In Canada, biomass supplies a paltry 4.7 per cent of our energy.

Utilization of forests

The forests in Sweden are seen as a tremendous resource for the production of bioenergy. Over 50 per cent of the country is covered by forest. With 10 million people living in a climate not much different than Canada, heating is important.

The forest wood is utilized not only to make furniture or pulp and paper; wood chips for bioenergy production is a major business in Sweden. The country has developed a supportive legal framework, economic incentives, technologies, businesses, procedures, and more to get the most out of its forests.

Before a mature forest is clear-cut for its wood, it may have been trimmed several times (first cut, second cut) and the wood harvested. The first and second cuts trim the forest of undergrowth and selectively remove trees so that the remaining ones have lots of space to growth into big, healthy trees that can be utilized for forest products (i.e., IKEA furniture).

During the final cutting, every part of a tree is utilized. The portion not used in lumber products such as tree tops and branches are used as biomass.

Our tour included a visit to the forest to see management practices first hand. With a majority of the forest in Sweden owned by private landowners, utilization of it for energy in the form of lumber and biomass is a profitable business.

We toured the Brista biofuel combined heat-and-power (CHP) facility near Stockholm. Mikael Hedstrom, the plant manager, informed us that the facility burns 350,000 tonnes of wood chips every year to produce 763 GWh of heat and 293 GWh of power.

The Brista CHP facility is part of a network of facilities that provides district heating to a majority of the City of Stockholm. Steam heated at the Brista facility and three other production plants moves through a 765-km long closed-loop distribution network that (incredibly) covers nearly 80 per cent of Stockholm’s heating needs.

For homeowners in Sweden not using district heating, wood pellets are a major fuel source. The move toward the utilization of wood pellets for home heating was partially orchestrated by the government through funding the construction of wood pellet plants, offered incentives to homeowners to buy wood pellet stoves to heat their homes, and simultaneously levying taxes on fossil fuels. As a result of these initiatives, Sweden has become the biggest user of wood pellets in the world.

Bioenergy and WTE

Besides the forest, household waste is regarded by Swedes as another major form of biomass. In fact, one of four facilities that supplies district heating to Stockholm – the Högdalen facilty – burns a combination of wood waste and household waste. The Högdalen facility utilizes approximately 500,000 tonnes of residential waste and 200,000 tonnes of industrial waste annually. It also burns wood pellets.

The district heating system in Stockholm is adding a fifth production plant. The plant will also burn wood pellets and household waste.

Nils Lundkvist, Manager of Technical Strategy for the City of Stockholm’s Waste Management Department, informed the tour group that Stockholm wants to be known as the “green capital” of Europe. It was the very first city to be designated European Green Capital by the EU Commission in 2010.

As part of this goal, the city aims to have all heating accomplished with non-fossil fuels.

Across Sweden, 20 facilities take in food waste (source-separated organics) for biogas generation. Fifty more facilities are planned or under construction. One interesting fact offered up on the tour is that the biogas generated from 100 banana peels can fuel a small car for nine kilometres!

Our group toured the Upsala Biogas Plant. The facility anaerobically digests source separated organics (SSO), fish offal, food waste from restaurants, and slaughterhouse waste. From my observations, one of the biggest problems facing the facility is the handling of plastic bags. Several steps at the facility involve separating the plastic from the SSO.

The methane generated at the Upsala plant is used either for transportation (many municipal fleets run on biogas) or for the generation of heat and/or electricity.

Achieving this level of biomass utilization in Sweden didn’t happen by accident. It took a concerted effort by government, industry and the public. The country’s goals are even more ambitious for 2020 when 50 per cent of all energy must come from renewable energy. Of that 50 per cent, it’s likely that 42 per cent will be from biomass utilization.

John Nicholson, M.Sc., P.Eng., is a consultant based in Toronto, Ontario. Contact John at john.nicholson@ebccanada.com

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