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Researchers affect important environmental decision

Published: 31 July 2013

One-third of today s fossil gasoline and diesel use in Sweden could be replaced with biofuels. This is according to a new report submitted by Swedish researchers to an official government investigation on how to wean the Swedish transport sector of fossil fuels by 2050.

Joakim Lundgren, Associate Professor at the Division of Energy Science has in collaboration with
colleagues at Lund University, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and f3 (Swedish Knowledge Centre for Renewable Motor Fuels) contributed to one of 17 background papers for a future government decision. The report forms the basis of the official government investigation "fossil free vehicle fleet" FFF that is expected to present its proposal on 16 December this year.

"Production of Today’s and Future Sustainable Biofuels" is the title of the report which he co-authored and in which, among other things, concludes that Sweden can increase the production of biofuels from the current level of 3 Terawatt-hours (TWh) to 25-30 TWh. This represents approximately one third of the current use of gasoline and diesel for road transport and can be achieved without competing for raw materials with forestry and agriculture, scientists believe. In 30-50 years it is estimated that production could increase to 80 to 100 TWh per year by increasing productivity in forestry. The raw materials that the scientists expect to increase in the future, partly because of more efficient farming and warmer climates, are logging residues from the forest as well as agricultural residues and energy crops.

The report has taken the whole production chain up to the finished product into concern, i.e. from biomass feedstock to motor fuel in the tank of a vehicle (well-to-tank). The production of biofuels is complex and involves a large number of processes and the researchers have studied each of these in order to obtain reliable results.

- You should not assess the sustainability of a particular biofuel, but instead the complete production system. There may be geographical differences, different raw materials and production volumes. How the by-products are used is also very important, says Joakim Lundgren.

Therefore, Sweden should not favor certain biofuels and instead reward the most sustainable production systems, says Joakim Lundgren and his co-authors.

In the background report, he and his colleagues also concluded that the prospects for commercial development and implementation of various biofuel systems differ and depend on factors such as existing infrastructure, car technologies, investment levels and so on. This complexity in turn puts demands on the design of governmental policies needed to fast enough increase both production and use of sustainable biofuels on a large scale.