Tomas Kåberger, Chair of Executive Board, Renewable Energy Institute
Japan could use more domestic bioenergy to provide electricity, heat, as well as automotive fuels. In order for bioenergy to provide lower cost energy supply than fossil fuels, the Japanese bioenergy sector should learn from the best in the world, but also get an opportunity to practice, and learn from own experience. Restructuring Japan’s Bioenergy Strategy, a report released by Renewable Energy Institute in April 2018, emphasizes this point.
At present much of the planned electricity generation from bioenergy is envisioning using imported biomass. While this opportunity should not be blocked, it is desirable to develop the potential for supply of domestic biomass as well.
In order to outcompete imported fossil and nuclear fuels, experiences from the most successful bioenergy users in the world should be used in Japan.
Use the cheapest biomass that can be found. Usually this is biomass waste and residues. Waste is often used paper and wood, while resides are products like saw dust and bark in the timber industry, and lignin and bark and black-liquor in the pulp industry, residual sludge in the paper industry and a spectrum om biomass from agriculture and food processing.
To efficiently burn some of these fuels was difficult at first, but experience and improved technology have evolved in some countries, making this a competitive source of energy.
When there is an external market for these potential fuels, an incentive is created to improve the energy efficiency in the forest industries and more energy becomes available for sale, rather than being burned within the industries only serving their own need for power and heat. During the last 25 years there are forest industries in Sweden that have gone from being large buyers of fuels and electricity, to becoming net sellers of electricity, heat and biofuels.
When burning biomass to produce electricity, it is essential for competitiveness that one can also be paid for the cooling water by supplying heat to industries or to houses via district heating systems. In such systems, 3 units of bioenergy may substitute 3 units of coal energy used in a conventional power plant to produce electricity, but also two units of kerosene energy when district heating using the cooling water from the co-generation plant substitutes kerosene in a household stove.
Besides being more efficient and profitable, such co-generations plants provide flexibility for the electricity system with a lot of solar and wind generators that do not have fuel costs. When there is so much solar and wind electricity available that the electricity price is cheaper than fuels, electricity can be used to heat the district heating system, and when electricity is scarce and valuable, the co-generation plant instead delivers power. In Denmark, where wind power provide almost half of all electricity during the year, biomass fueled co-generations plants are seen as one of the most important power system balancing opportunities making the whole power and heat supply completely domestic.
A major source of domestic biomass supply in Japan should be the forestry sector. Using byproducts from forestry for energy proposed has proven to be a way of providing high income to the forestry sector, making forestry competitive also in rich, high income countries in Europe. Only half of the biomass in a tree cut for the forest industry end up as paper or sawn timber. The rest become residues in different stages of the process, a lot already in the forest. If the forest owner can be paid also for this half of the tree, income increases and forestry becomes more competitive.
The process of making collection, chipping and transport of residues from thinning and harvesting of trees has become much more efficient over the years. This has been achieved by skills based on accumulated experience. But it is also based on improved infrastructure of specialized machinery and special companies established in rural areas with forests.
Bioenergy can be competitive with fossil fuels even without any subsidies, and even without fossil fuel taxation. But it requires skills and technologies developed with experience in some countries. Japan can benefit from learning from the best. But practicing and learning from own experience will also be necessary. However, in Japan this should just take a few years to achieve what took a decade in other parts of the world.