As you will have noticed from our previous blog articles, sources of biofuels are a hot topic. There is an ongoing battle to find sources that have a minimal environmental impact. The popularity of food crops such as corn, sugar and vegetable oils, as a source has decreased recently as governments have become more aware of the possibility that biofuel production raises food prices, decreases biodiversity, causes water shortages and increases deforestation as a result of increased demands on land space (see Dave Simpson’s article for a summary of the issues). The hunt is on for low-impact sources of biofuels. Previous blog articles have highlighted two possibilities: waste products from coffee and high-yielding algae grown on marginal land. It now looks like we’re on the verge of being able to produce biofuel from forestry waste.
The Finnish forestry and paper group UPM-Kymmene are conducting trials to produce biodiesel, bioethanol and heavy fuel oils from forest residues including tree bark, twigs and stumps.
"According to our plans we should have the necessary information in our hands to make decisions about the first large scale commercial unit by the middle of this year," said vice president corporate relations and development Hans Sohlstrom on the sidelines of a conference on second generation biofuels.
If current trials were positive, a start to commercial green fuel production from forest residues could be possible in 2012-2013.
Currently around half a tree’s biomass is left as residue which cannot be used for timber or paper production. Three million tonnes of this could produce 200,000 tonnes of biodiesel.
However, as with most environmentally friendly fuels, production of biofuels from forest residues isn’t cheap – any investment could involve hundreds of millions of euros. Sohlstrom warns that fuel production could be delayed by the current financial crisis.
Read more at: Michael Hogan (12 February 2009) Biofuel from forestry waste is close – UPM-Kymmene. Reuters.
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