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Study Finds Current Swedish Biofuels Offer Major Climate Benefits; Biogas from Manure the Best

A study by researchers at Lund University in Sweden found that Swedish biofuels produce between 65 and 148% less greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline and diesel, even when direct and indirect land use changes are taken into account. In the study, which looked at various types of biogas, ethanol and biodiesel, biogas from manure that came out on top.

The fuels studied were: biogas from sugar beet, ley crops, maize and waste products in the form of household waste, industrial waste and manure; biodiesel from rapeseed; ethanol from wheat and sugar beet; and ethanol from Brazilian sugar cane. Co-production of biogas and ethanol from wheat was also analyzed.

Biogas produced from manure, waste from food industries, and organic household waste were found to provide a climate benefit of 148%, 119% and 103%, respectively, compared to fossil fuels. The reason that the climate benefit exceeds 100%, the researchers explain, is the indirect effects obtained through increased recycling of nutrients reducing the need for fertilizers, and the increased recycling of organic matter to the soils.

Reductions in greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil fuels from other biofuels included (without energy allocation):

  • 71%; 80%; and 79% for wheat-based ethanol; sugar beet ethanol; and Brazilian sugar cane ethanol, respectively.
  • 68% from biodiesel (RME)
  • 86%; 85%; and 75% from biogas from ley crops; sugar beets (including tops); and maize, respectively.

We have calculated as fairly as possible and based on as similar conditions as possible. Our results do not indicate that biofuels produced from crops grown in Sweden currently lead to indirect land use changes, e.g. land clearance in South America or Asia. Despite this, a number of economists have claimed that it could take 50 years for biofuels to repay their impact on the climate, specifically as a result of indirect land use changes.

It is really quite uninteresting to rank different sustainable biofuels. There is room for all, and all are needed to develop alternatives to fossil fuels. The challenge today lies in simply increasing the quantity of sustainable biofuels.

—Pål Börjesson, researcher in Environment and Energy Systems at Lund University

Börjesson points out that each type of biofuel has different limitations in production volumes. In order to avoid negative effects, it is important to know where this boundary lies. Rapid and significant increases in production of biofuels from food crops could result in negative indirect land use changes, he said. “There is a limit, but we are not there yet.

Besides greenhouse gases, environmental effects such as eutrophication, acid rain, tropospheric ozone and emissions of particles were included in the study, along with emissions from the use of biofuels in light and heavy vehicles. Direct and indirect land use changes were also studied.

(A hat-tip to John!)

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Comments

Davemart

I have been pretty negative on biofuels due to concern for it's consumption of phosphates.
Have I worried needlessly?

Henry Gibson

No!; phosphates are always needed for growth. I continue to explain that permanent tree growth combined with the additional use of fossil fuels is a cheaper way to reduce CO2 than to use biofuel ethanol in the US.

One or two CANDU nuclear reactor generators could remove any advantage of biofuel use in Sweden.

Building underground reactors in cities just to replace the heat from natural gas and other fuels with an imitation of the Geothermal energy in Greenland would make a very cheap and fast way of reducing the production of CO2. There would be no need for the expensive high pressure pipes and the related safety mechanisms. The tiny self contained nuclear reactors can be built and installed very cheaply for such purposes. ..HG..

Henry Gibson

I meant Iceland instead of Greenland. Iceland is one of the most clear examples of the near total destruction of forests for fuel use by early inhabitants.

Greenland should buy CANDU reactors from nearby and make aluminum or magnesium for sale. ..HG..

3PeaceSweet

Biomass to bio-methane via gasification / digestion is generally more efficient that conversion to liquid fuels

Eco Bags Al

This study is good evidence that we must develop many alternatives to gasoline and diesel including biofuels.

Biodiversivist

Everybody seems to missing the main point. Biofuels only represent about 2% of global energy use today. Expansion of their use is when the problems start:

"..each type of biofuel has different limitations in production volumes. In order to avoid negative effects, it is important to know where this boundary lies. Rapid and significant increases in production of biofuels from food crops could result in negative indirect land use changes, he said. “There is a limit, but we are not there yet.”

This study only covered fuels used in Sweden. Thirty thousand square miles of prime farmland was usurped for corn ethanol in the US last year.

fred schumacher

You work with what you have. Sweden has a large forestry industry which produces waste byproducts. Livestock and humans produce waste products of digestion, which are carbon and nitrogen rich. Waste is a raw material for energy production.

Nuclear power is a finite resource. All but the lowest atomic weight elements were created inside exploding stars. The higher the atomic number, the rarer the element. Nuclear power does not produce portable fuels. Biofuel production does.

In the real world, the doable is preferable to the undoable ideal.

fred schumacher

"Thirty thousand square miles of prime farmland was usurped for corn ethanol in the US last year."

I don't think "usurp" is the proper word. Usurp means to seize and hold by force or without legal authority. I'm quite sure that ethanol producers buy their grain legally.

Ethanol production is value added processing of a raw agricultural commodity. If land is usurped for ethanol production, then it is also usurped for food, feed, biodegradable plastic, and any number of other value added products. Perhaps it could be said that hundreds of thousands of acres of prime agricultural land was usurped for human belly fat production, since that's its ultimate destination.

Mannstein

Now we know why Sweden invented Clivus toilet technology.

Alain

Although producing these biofuels is obviously better than just let it rot on the fields or burn it, in the long run this organic waste should be carbonised to agrichar. This would permanently (at this moment any carbon fixation is only temporarily) sequester the carbon, improve soil fertility and future plant growth (increasing future carbon sequestration even further), recycle phosphates and improve soil water content (which is particularly intersting in dry locations and even improves soil productivity further).
Liquid or gaseous biofuels can easily be made from CO2 and (nuclear or renewable) energy. One classical nuclear reactor can produce much more energy than the total biofuel production of Scandinavia, which would allow for millions of tons of agrichar to be produced.

If judging nuclear to be finite or not, and comparing it to renewables, we must stop looking only to the fuel. You must take into account the whole picture !
The iron, copper, catalysts, cement, agricultural equipment, ... you need to produce biofuels or solar panels or windmills are as renewable as uranium. the amount of (iron)ore you need for a few windmills is more than the amount of (uranium)ore you need for 50 years of working of a nuclear reactor. this windmill will also not be recycled 100%. On the other hand, uranium can be produced very cleanly from seawater or in situ leach mining. This is not done today because it is more expensive than hardrock mining, but if done, it would hardly increase the price of electricity. Next generation reactors will be multiple times more efficient.

Conclusion : Nuclear energy is much more sustainable than any kind of 'renewable' energy we use today !

The big problem today is CO2, ore (iron, phosphate, rare metals) depletion and ecologicaly damaging mining techniques. So let's solve these problems first. Uranium depletion is a problem of the far-far future and will be solved in the near future.

In the mean-time, mass implementation of nuclear electricity and nuclear liquid fuels is the most sustainable way out of the energy crisis.

Please do calculated comparisons instead of philosophical rhetorics.

Biodiversivist

Fred,

I don't think "value added" is the proper description of a process that mandates use of a heavily subsidized product. Remove the tariffs, mandates, and subsidies and your value added product would disappear in a value added puff of smoke.

Biodiversivist

Interestingly enough, here is another recent Swedish study showing that by 2050:

http://www.tsl.uu.se/uhdsg/Publications/Ambio_Agriculture.pdf

----"...very little, or nothing, remains for biofuel from agricultural primary crops."----

Converting food crops into fuel is a dead end idea.

luis

congratulation to swedish !!
good work biofuels function perfectly in sweden
and you produce all electricity without petrol
only you use oil in car ,when the electric cars being produce massive in 4 years you wont need oil.
good work !!
i applaud you

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