“Time is precious and we have to act now!”
With those words Sweden’s Minister for Agriculture Eskil Erlandsson inaugurated the World Bioenergy conference and trade fair at Elmia in Jönköping, Sweden.
The minister said that bioenergy is an important part of the solution to both the climate problem and the world’s energy needs. Within that framework he highlighted two specific areas: using black liquor, a forest industry byproduct, for energy production, and producing vehicle fuel and biogas.
“Sweden’s pulp mills have the potential to produce 20-30 TWh per year,” he explained, but added that there is no single replacement for oil: “We must use all energy sources and we can all make a contribution in our daily lives.”
Acceleration is the problem
Professor Thomas B. Johansson contributed important perspectives during the opening session. He is head of the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics at Lund University, which is doing a project called Global Energy Assessment. He said that the challenges we face are the result of rapid acceleration in all areas, from water consumption and planetary population growth to the number of hamburger restaurants.
The solution to the climate and energy problems, he said, lies on several levels. We must both develop new solutions and use existing ones more efficiently.
“Thirty percent of the energy now being produced is being used to heat and cool buildings. We can reduce our consumption by ninety percent by using passive building techniques for new construction and renovation.”
Possible to have both
Professor Johansson rejected the idea that bioenergy is de facto environmentally friendly. Today ten percent of bioenergy is being used in the countryside in developing nations. Inadequate combustion methods are causing various kinds of emissions which negatively impact both the local surroundings and the global climate. Cleaner fuels and better combustion methods must be made more accessible to more people. At the same time, he pointed out that we do not have to choose between growth and a better environment:
“It is possible to have both.”
A constantly recurring question is whether the planet can produce all the biomass necessary to cover mankind’s energy needs. This issue is being studied by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, represented at World Bioenergy by Miguel Trossero of Argentina.
“We are working in some twenty countries in South America, Africa and Europe to survey bioenergy availability and potential,” he said, and gave examples of countries with extensive unexploited resources.
Bioenergy is Sweden’s biggest energy source
World Bioenergy 2010 attracted researchers and decision-makers from around the world to Sweden and Jönköping. The reason is that Sweden is one of the most advanced countries in this field. In 2009 biofuel overtook oil as Sweden’s biggest energy source. Bioenergy now provides 31.7 percent of Sweden’s energy needs and renewable energy sources as a whole (including bioenergy) now provide just over 46 percent of Sweden’s consumption.
The question of why Sweden has such a head start over other nations was answered by Gustav Melin of the Swedish Bioenergy Association, Svebio:
“Sweden lacks its own fossil fuels but we have well-managed forests and an industry that primarily wants electricity.”
He and several other speakers at the opening session pointed out that many other countries possess the conditions to repeat what Sweden has already achieved. And even in Sweden, the opportunities to use a even greater proportion of renewable energy are far from being exhausted.