How to recover the forest biomass?

How to recover the forest biomass?

It is likely that many of us have taken advantage of weekends to take a walk in the forest or the mountain. When we return home, impressed by the beauty of the landscape, we may have reflected with sadness on the enormous damage that forest fires cause in these spaces.

We all have to be a bit more responsible and see that the forests are still an important source of resources. This is why we must try to preserve and keep them in good conditions. It should not be forgotten that fire is one of the main problems that destroys forests every Summer. This situation causes social alarm and destroys forests, which take many years to be recovered.

In Southern Europe, forest fires seriously threaten its sustainability. According to EFE VERDE, only in Spain the forest area affected by fires, between January and November 2016, has been 61,359.9 hectares. This is equivalent to more than 61,000 football pitches.

In case of involuntary fire, this situation is due not only to high temperatures reached in Summer, but also to forest biomass abandoned in the forest after logging activities. It is very important to carry out maintenance and cleaning of forests through pruning, forests’ clearing, etc.

These measures make necessary the development of new forms of exploitation for these biomass residues generated by the forestry industry (sawmills, primary transformation industries, manufacturers of processed wood products and cork and pulp manufacturers).

This is the reason why CARTIF is working on finding new technologies using biomass as a renewable energy source for the production of electrical and thermal energy as well as for the production of new bioproducts. In this way, wood yield is increased and besides, soil erosion and tree diseases are prevented. Moreover, outbreaks of forest fires are avoided.

This is the line followed by the European project LIFE EUCALYPTUS ENERGY. Its main objective is the design and construction of a demonstration plant that energetically valorises the forest biomass from the forest cuttings of Eucalyptus globulus. This wood is used mainly by the paper industry. The used biomass is mainly composed of low density biomass (leaves and branches) and it comes from timber exploitations of eucalyptus and that it is now abandoned in the forest.

The LIFE EUCALYPTUS project develops pyrolysis technology, a process by which biomass is transformed in the absence of oxygen into a combustible gas that can be exploited in an engine to obtain electric and thermal energy. In addition, in this process a solid by-product, the biochar, is obtained, which will be used in the same forest improving soil properties.

The reason for selecting eucalyptus biomass and the site where the demonstration plant is being built (Asturias, Spain) is because the selected species has a large presence in the area, around 53,000 ha. However, this experience is easily replicable to other areas and other types of biomass.

Just look at the existing wooded forest area, which in Spain is approximately 18 million hectares, 33% more than 25 years ago. Also in Spain alone, there is about 6 million tons of forest biomass in its forests. There are numbers that increase expectations of this biomass use and the benefits that will produce. We must take into account not only the added value of the generated products, but also the associated job creation. The human factor is important, due to the progressive abandonment of agricultural, herding and forestry activities that have occurred in recent years because of the rural exodus.

Therefore, keep a positive thought: biomass can generate a lot of benefits. Now, do you still think that biomass is a waste?

Why is not easy the implementation of energy efficient solutions in buildings?

Why is not easy the implementation of energy efficient solutions in buildings?

More than 40% of the residential buildings in Europe are older than 50 years and subsequently they have a large potential for energy savings. The European Commission is aware of the need of a renovation work as well as the benefits that this activity can bring to the economy; hence, it designs strategies that help to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions to the atmosphere while being able to create new jobs. It is not easy to report an exact number of the benefit associated to this type of initiative given the estimations differ among reports. As reference, here it is provided the annual jobs quantified in the Strategy for Energy Retrofitting Building Sector in Spain that estimated the creation of around 97,000 and 141,000 new jobs between 2014 and 2020.

However, despite the great advantages of this sector, the beginning of a energy efficient solutions project is not simple because of non-technological barriers (Table: BPIE 2011: Europe’s building under the microscope). This explains why annual energy efficient solutions rate is around 1% in most European countries. The high investment cost and the access to finance due to a lack of long term credit from banks are undoubtedly one of the most important barriers which are related to a lack of knowledge and risk perception towards this type of action. Also, many of people who live in this type of households have limited resources and cannot afford such expensive renovations.

On the other hand, accompanying these economic barriers, there is often a lack of interest towards this investment option since the reduction of energy bills and the impact on the property value as a result of the energy efficiency measures are not very relevant aspects to involve the building owners. Nor a better thermal comfort helps to the making decision process when the payback is not imminent. Concerning the legal framework, it should be mentioned that despite the development of regulations that favor energy efficiency in buildings, there are many obstacles in this field to overcome since nowadays the regulatory framework is dispersed and is managed by several administration.

In the case of Spain, the situation is nowadays complicated after the crisis experienced in the construction sector with a special reluctance of banks to lend loans to construction companies. On the other hand, financial institutions force to housing owners to endorse their dwelling in order to solve the possible non-payment that may arise within the community of neighbors. Therefore the rehabilitation of a building or district depends in many cases on the economic capacity for companies to invest as well as the public funding. Also, it has to be mentioned that the regulation is against renewable energy and the self-consumption which is also restrained the advance of energy renovation of districts.

Given this scenario, the only way for the renovation of the buildings is to achieve a short-term payback, being currently this one of the biggest challenges since it is needed to identify the most suitable business model and financial scheme for each type of property, housing and society. Furthermore, it is required to boost the benefits of these initiatives through information campaigns.