The electrification of society has accelerated; the number of electric vehicles on Norwegian roads has grown impressively. The first electric ferries have been launched, the first electric planes have taken off, and electric buses are a reality in several cities. So why do we need biofuels?
"We need more solutions to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector. Internal combustion engines will still need fuel for many years to come. While the major shift to renewable energy production is underway, we need liquid fuels that are more climate-friendly than currently," says Rune Gjessing, managing director of Silva Green Fuel, which is planning to produce biodiesel using residual waste from forestry operations. The company is jointly owned by the Swedish forestry cooperative Södra and Statkraft.
Electrification of the transport sector will take time, also in Norway, considered a pioneer in this area. The government's goal is for new, lighter vehicles to be emission-free by 2025, while three-quarters of new long-distance buses and half of trucks will be emission-free by 2030.
From 2020, 20 per cent of the fuel used in road transport in Norway must be based on biofuels. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Greener internal combustion engines
With biofuels in the tank, combustion engines still release CO2, but not fossil CO2.
"The core of the climate problem is adding new carbon to the atmosphere from oil, gas and coal. This is not the case for biofuels which, for example, are produced from residual material from the forest industry, because they are part of the natural lifecycle," says Gjessing.
Biofuels are blended with fossil fuels at a ratio set by the government authorities. In Norway, the total fuel market is around 9 000 million litres a year, of which about 4 300 litres are related to road transport. From 2020, 20 per cent of the fuel must be based on biofuels.
"The production of biofuels does not replace fossil fuels, but is one of several means of achieving our climate targets," says Gjessing and continues:
"The goal is to use four million cubic metres of residual material from forestry operations to produce approximately 600 million litres of biofuel. This can contribute to an emissions cut of around 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 per year, amounting to about seven per cent of Norway's national target for greenhouse gas reduction."
The production of first-generation biofuels has been criticised because the raw materials used could often have been used for food, either directly or by alternative use of agricultural land. Moreover, production of biofuels based on palm oil is criticised because it can result in the deforestation of valuable rainforest.
"So the there is a strong need for more sustainable second-generation biofuels. The main difference is that second-generation biofuels are recovered from residues and waste from other types of production. Examples are slaughterhouse waste and residual material from forestry and wood processing," says Gjessing and emphasises:
"Not a single tree will be cut in Norway solely to produce biofuels. It's all about using branches and brush, dead trees and residual materials that cannot be used for anything else."
Residual material from forestry and wood processing can be used to produce second-generation biofuels. (Photo: Shutterstock)
"As long as forestry is sustainable, the forest is a renewable resource," says Gjessing, who has worked in forest management for more than 20 years. He points out that sustainable forestry operations of course include replanting after logging, but logging itself is also critical.
"If a forest owner does not cut down mature trees so that they can be processed at sawmills or pulp and paper mills, they will die and decay. In the decaying process the trees release methane and the CO2 they have accumulated in their lifetime – without society deriving any value from it."
"Lumber is the most valuable product from the forest, pulpwood goes to wood chips and cellulose, while the energy wood, which has a lower quality than pulpwood, is our raw material," says Gjessing.
He points out that it is important for the forest to be thinned so that growing conditions are optimal for the remaining trees. "In this way the forest is a renewable resource at several levels. Sweden and Finland have a better tradition for this than Norway, where we mostly carry out clear-cutting," says Gjessing.
The goal is to make use of everything from forestry operations.