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Geography matters

Publicerad: 18 juni 2018

Spatial issues are important determinates for the implementation of large-scale biorefineries. Not predominantly because of transportation costs but because of the spatially rigid industrial structure. The geographic locations of biofuel production facilities should be strategically chosen in order to minimise the total cost of using biofuels. Proximity to biomass resources, possibilities for integration, and distance to biofuel users are aspects that need to be considered.

Spatial issues

Spatial issues are important determinates for the implementation of large-scale biorefineries. Not predominantly because of transportation costs but because of the spatially rigid industrial structure and spatial distribution of current biomass demand. The geographic locations of biofuel production facilities should be strategically chosen in order to minimise the total cost of using biofuels. Proximity to biomass resources, possibilities for integration, and distance to biofuel users are aspects that need to be considered.

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The geographically explicit optimisation model BeWhere Sweden was used to investigate the future production of next-generation biofuels from forest biomass in Sweden. Different biofuel routes and technologies were considered, with a special focus on integration with existing industry. Generally, plants with low specific investment costs, i.e., large biofuel production, and/or plants with low specific net biomass transportation costs, due to elimination of the need to transport biomass by-products from industrial plants, occur most frequently in simulations. Because these properties often vary significantly among different individual host industry sites, the results show the advantage and importance of including site-specific data in this type of model. 

Industry structure

The biofuel cost consists of the cost for biomass, biomass transportation, investment, operation and maintenance, electricity, fossil fuels and biofuel distribution. Different combinations of biofuel technology and host industry differ significantly regarding the absolute and relative levels of these costs per unit of biofuel produced.

For a given combination of biofuel technology and host industry, the main differences between different individual host industry sites are the specific net biomass transportation and investment cost. The cost for biomass and the capital cost generally dominate the biofuel cost, but the cost for biomass transportation and biofuel distribution can also have a significant impact. These costs are in various ways all dependent on geographical location.

Chemical pulp mills dominate as host industries, due to proximity to feedstock, heat integration benefits, high conversion efficiency and large credits for alternative investments. However, complex integration requires major changes to pulp mill operations. District heating networks offer less complex integration and can also be of interest as hosts, but waste and bio-CHP compete for the heat load.

Key insights

Bioenergy demand is expected to potentially lead to large changes in the composition of bioenergy feedstocks. The results highlight increasing future connectivity between the import of wood pellets, production of SRC, and use of forest-based industrial by-products. The development of the forest-based industry and the bioenergy sector is expected to lead to a strong intensification in the use of EU forests and conversion of other natural vegetation areas.

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Site-specific integration opportunities which can be applied on a large-scale may yield significant cost reductions for biofuel production which can outweigh the potential increased cost of feedstock mobilisation at that site. Conversely, site-specific safety issues, site layouts or strategic interests of the host might impede integration. Integration benefits have a particularly profound impact in the early stages of biofuel deployment.

Existing industry thus plays an important but complex role in the implementation of forest-based biorefineries. On the one hand, existing forest industry may face increased competition for feedstock. On the other hand, existing industry can play a role in mitigating future biofuel production costs. This potential synergy benefit must then be shared between the host industry operation and the biofuel production, an aspect which is lacking in current policy.