Will substituting fossil fuels with biofuels lead to a net reduction in CO2 emissions? : The case of district heating in Norrköping municipality

University essay from Stockholms universitet/Institutionen för naturgeografi

Abstract: With global warming and the international, national and local goals of reducing greenhouse gas net emissions, the phasing out of fossil fuels are of great importance. One energy source resulting in nearly no net emissions are biofuels. Residue from the forest industry, such as tops and branches, is already today in Sweden an important source of energy, especially in the district heating sector. The demand for forest residue is estimated to increase until 2050 and the potential harvest is a lot larger than what is utilized today. This master thesis tests the hypothesis of biofuels having a climate positive effect when replacing fossil fuels, despite the loss of carbon in the forest soil, which is a feedback of harvesting forest residue. The municipality of Norrköping here works as a case as they are standing in the forefront of turning towards a bio-based economy and a fossil free energy system. The biogeochemical model ForSAFE was used to study if Norrköping can replace all their fossil fuels and solid waste in the district heating for the municipality’s households and public facilities with forest residue from the forest within the municipality’s administrative boundaries. The result show that the productive forest area of the municipality does not yield enough forest residue to fulfil the energy demand from the fossil fuels and the waste. Meanwhile, the soil organic carbon was shown to be decreasing over the simulated years (2000-2300), although the loss did not exceed the emissions from the burning of the replaced fossil fuels. If the productive forest had been large enough to yield enough biomass to meet the demand, the loss of soil organic carbon would still not exceed the amount of carbon dioxide that the fossil fuels would have emitted. This indicates a positive climate effect when replacing fossil fuels with forest residue, reducing net emissions to the atmosphere. Despite the low yield of biomass compared to the energy demand from fossil fuels and waste in Norrköping, a study like this gives a projection of the biomass production and the feedbacks. These effects will be affected by different forest management scenarios and the change in climate. The silvicultural practices have however shown to have negative impacts on the Swedish Environmental Quality Objectives. Threatening the biodiversity and leaching of nutrients and chemicals, resulting in additional feedbacks downstream are examples of effects from disturbance in the forest and forest soil. It is therefore of great importance to consider the natural environment and neatly plan around forestry operations. In the end, the climatic benefit of switching to a fossil free energy system with the help of forest biofuels will have to weighted against the negative impacts. With a landscape view used and great knowledge about feedback effects when forestry planning, the input of biofuels can be a natural way to go for several municipalities in Sweden when wanting to create a bio-based economy with zero net emissions of greenhouse gases.

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