The biggest volumes of biofuel raw material are in the forest but the agricultural sector can also contribute more renewable energy. At least, so says the Swedish Board of Agriculture, which had a stand at World Bioenergy 2010. “Willow, reed canary grass and rapeseed are some of the energy crops with major potential,” says Tobias Kreuzpointner, responsible for business and landscape development at the Board. “But there are also good opportunities to produce energy from agricultural byproducts – for instance, biogas from manure.”
The challenge for agricultural-sourced energy raw materials is to achieve profitability – and to avoid ethical issues.
“For this to work, there must never be a conflict between food production and fuel production,” Kreuzpointner says. “We are therefore trying to stimulate crops that can offer both.”
One example he gives is straw: “Extract the grain and burn the straw.”
Another is rapeseed: “When the rapeseeds are pressed for oil, the process also creates an excellent animal feed. The future lies in this kind of combination.”
Willow (salix) and reed canary grass are more obvious examples of pure energy crops.
“District heating plants like willow chips because their fibrous structure is very tree-like.”
Reed canary grass has made major advances as an energy grass in recent years.
“It establishes easily and grows well but has a somewhat higher ash content than alternatives like willow and wood fuels.”
Kreuzpointner wants to see a combination of crops used, and farmers being creative in how they use their land.
“On good ground – grain. On worse ground and along the edges where the fields meet the woods – energy crops.”
He also advises farmers who are interested in producing bioenergy crops that subsidies are available:
“Up to 2013 the Swedish Board of Agriculture has 470 million kronor for projects that contribute to increasing the proportion of renewable energy and for measures to benefit the climate.”