Biofuels from biomass from agricultural land - land use change in a Swedish perspective

Last changed: 20 November 2019

The Swedish parliament has decided that by 2045, Sweden will not be a net emitter of greenhouse gases. There is also a goal to have a fossil fuel free transport sector by 2030. However, the transport sector is still dominated by fossil fuels and many efforts are needed to lower emissions. Sweden has a relatively high share of biofuels, around 20% of the energy use in domestic transportation. However, almost 90% of these fuels are imported or produced from imported feedstock.

In this study it was investigated whether and how the forecast biofuel demand for 2030 (20 TWh) can be met by biofuels produced from domestic feedstock. The scope was narrowed to biomass that does not cause land use change effects, since the European Commission has communicated that use of biofuels based on feedstock which could be used instead for food or feed will not be supported in the future. The reason for this policy decision is that increased biofuel production could stimulate direct land use change (dLUC) or indirect land use change (iLUC), leading to release of soil carbon and other greenhouse gases.

We found that about 4-10 TWh of biofuels can be produced from iLUC-free agricultural feedstock in Sweden; the range is dependent on the assumed biofuel conversion rate. The raw material studied was (1) agricultural residues, (2) ley produced on previously unused arable land, (3) crops from arable land such as intermediate crops and (4) intensification of ley cultivation.

Literature indicates that iLUC-free feedstock from other sectors (forest residues, industrial by-products and residues, and residues from other parts of society in Sweden, marine feedstock not included) could contribute 8-11 TWh biofuel. In other words, there is good potential to reach the required 20 TWh of biofuels by 2030 based on domestic iLUC-free feedstock. Lowering domestic consumption of meat and alcoholic beverages and lowering land use for recreational horse keeping could provide additional space for biofuel production.

However, steering towards iLUC-free feedstock would mean higher production costs compared to conventional biofuel production. It is therefore of particular interest to study the potential trade-offs between greenhouse gases and economics. The production of ethanol and biogas based on wheat grain and wheat straw was studied, where wheat grain represented the current production system and wheat straw represented an iLUC-free production system.

We conclude that wheat straw-based biofuels do not compete with food production and have lower greenhouse gas emissions than those based on wheat grain, but higher production costs. The reasons for higher production costs are mainly the lower biofuel yield and more expensive pre-treatment. In order to enable general conclusions on trade-offs when steering towards iLUC-free feedstock, more case studies are however needed with a larger set of studied feedstocks, biofuels and including other environmental impacts.