Business insights for the valorisation of biomass from landscape management
Business cases have been investigated that demonstrate the greenGain-approach of energy production from landscape management biomass. These business cases cover various segments of the value chain from biomass sourcing, upgrading, trading and the application as feedstock for bioenergy generation.
The first business case addresses business opportunities by producing wood chips from landscape management of trees- and hedge rows or bushes. Highly specialized companies subcontracted by the owners often perform the maintenance operations. Studies in the greenGain pilot regions Friesland and Rotenburg (Wümme) revealed full commercial operations, with a high level of mechanisation and high productivity. The commodities are marketed after upgrading as quality wood chips for 25 EUR/m³ (~110 EUR/t dry matter) to fuel smaller combustors (central heating, 25 to 100 kW) or as coarse, fresh chips for 38 EUR/t (~80 EUR/t dry matter) as fuel for large combustors (100 to 1000 kW). These experiences were used to develop business opportunities for other greenGain model regions. There, smaller amounts of biomass demand smaller systems. For example in-line chippers or cutters seem to fit better to the regional conditions. Production costs for wood chips are expected to be competitive if the avoided costs of the actual management measures are taken into account.
Business case two studies the application of grass to biogas plants. In this case, grass is utilised to produce energy without further investments by biogas plant operators. From the technological point of view, both dry and wet fermentation systems are available, which can perform digestion of the grass with variable biogas yields. The results indicate that the fermentation of landscape management grass can improve the commercial viability under certain conditions. The calculations show that methane generation is reduced when maize silage is replaced with such grass. However, substrate costs are reduced too. It leads to an increase in overall profit. This scenario occurs, when clean grass cuttings are provided free of charge to the plant operator without any requirement for a pre-treatment and fed directly into the digester. However, these conditions are difficult to achieve and technical constraints like clogging of plant equipment limit co-feeding of fresh grass to 5-10% only. For more information see D4.3 of greenGain.
Another interesting business concept is special Biomass Trade Logistic Centres (BTLC) at a central location to stimulate the use of biomass obtained from landscape management in the region. Woody biomass from landscape management is collected, treated and transformed into quality certified marketable products. Products can be solid fuels like wood chips, pellets, briquettes, garden soil improvers and compost. The supply of the feedstock could be organised via a high-density network of collection points. The objective of BTLC is to mobilise unutilised lignocellulosic biomass for example in the case of biomass from abandoned olive plantations in the Trasimeno region of Umbria in Italy. For a viable economic operation, necessary feedstock potentials need to be realised. Further, overall market demand and competition analysis are favourable. The key issue will be the set-up of an organisation/team, addressing all actors and the communication towards all stakeholders in the region.
It is concluded that there is a wide area of landscape management activities where additional business and jobs can be generated especially in rural areas by the broader exploitation of the biomass for energy generation. There are some major challenges in the path of valorisation of landscape material. One of the challenges is the scattered occurrence and often small amounts per site, which lead to high efforts in collecting the biomass. These may be overcome by collecting the material from nearby plots at one place in order to achieve a higher productivity. Additionally, central places like a BTLC with several collection spaces could favour the upgrading of the biomass to marketable products needed to fulfil market expectations. Such systems and infrastructure could be initiated as a public private partnership of communes and private business stakeholders in the regions.
Finally, the greenGain project has demonstrated that a reduction in landscape management costs and even the achievement of profits is possible without compromising environmental and sustainability issues.
Authors: Klaus Lenz, Simon Kühner and Mini Bajaj