Denmark can triple its biomass production and improve the environment
The industry is interested in establishing a biorefinery sector in Denmark that can replace oil-based products with biofriendly materials, chemicals, energy and fuel. But this requires a larger biomass production than we are currently achieving. Scientists from University of Copenhagen and Aarhus University have published an extensive report that shows how we can increase the production of biomass by more than 200% in an environmentally friendly way.
The report called ”The ten-million-tonne plan” shows how we can increase the Danish production of biomass from agriculture and forestry by 10 million tonnes per year without affecting the current production of feed and food.
The plan also shows how we can substantially reduce the environmental impact compared with current levels.
"It sounds too good to be true, but it is quite realistic. By concentrating on a number of areas we can in practice double plant production and improve the utilisation of existing resources so there is enough both for food and feed production and for an additional 10 million tonnes of biomass in 2020," says Morten Gylling, senior advisor at the Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen.
The report contains a number of specific subelements that combined provide a solution for how we can use sustainable biology and technology to get an additional 10 million tonnes of biomass a year by 2020 without incorporating more agricultural land.
"One of the options is to double crop yield per hectare in selected areas. This can be done by converting to cropping systems with improved perennial crops and break crops to extend the growing season and thus more fully exploit the solar radiation. This will be sufficient to meet the requirements for both feed and food production and for the biomass production for a number of biofriendly products," explains Uffe Jørgensen, senior scientist at Aarhus University.
New biorefinery sector possible
The increased production of biomass means that it would be possible to establish a biorefinery sector in Denmark – a sector that is crucial for the establishment of a green growth economy in Denmark.
"A future Danish biorefinery sector would create around new 20,000 jobs in production and industry, primarily in the provinces," says Professor Claus Felby from University of Copenhagen and continues:
"10 million tonnes of biomass actually corresponds to 20 percent of our current consumption of natural gas and to 30-50 percent of our consumption of petroleum and diesel. To this should be added a significantly higher feed production that to a large extent will be able to replace what we currently import from countries such as South America," says Claus Felby.
Biomass venture reduces impact on environment
The results of the report also show that the aquatic environment will improve with a focus on biomass. The loss of nitrogen from farmland can be reduced by more than 20,000 tones:
"A focus on biomass production alone will help meet our obligations in the EU Water Framework Directive, which is one of the most important tasks of Natur og Landbrugskommissionen (Agriculture and Nature Council) at the moment. It is particularly a better utilisation of animal manure that will help us to significantly reduce nitrate leaching," emphasises Morten Gylling.
Biodiversity in Denmark will also be enhanced:
"We can increase biodiversity by harvesting the grass from approx. 70,000 ha of lowland meadows so they do not become smothered in nettles and willow as a result of nutrient overloads. Another option is to increase the area with natural woodland by 47,000 ha, and it is also possible to cut and remove the biomass and nutrients from approx. 7,000 ha of road verges to increase floral diversity," adds Uffe Jørgensen.
In order to realise the biomass potential, a massive investment in research and development will be needed in future years, particularly within agriculture and forestry, but also within the biological and chemical conversion of biomass.
The project is part of the collaboration between University of Copenhagen, Aarhus University and DONG set up in December 2011 to help launch special initiatives within research and education in green energy.
Senior Advisor Morten Gylling, Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen telephone: +45 2724 3484
Senior Scientist Uffe Jorgensen, Department of Agroecology, Aarhus University, telephone: +45 2133 7831
Professor Claus Felby, Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen, telephone: +45 4089 8932
Senior Scientist Uffe Jorgensen, Department of Agroecology, Aarhus University, Telephone: +45 2133 7831
Communications Advisor Katherina Killander, Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen
Telephone: +45 51 68 04 12
The report's solutions
We can produce an extra 10 million tonnes of biomass by 2020 within the framework of our existing land use and forestry without affecting the production of feed and food. We can also halve the environmental impact and increase the biodiversity in Denmark. This is possible because:
- We can increase the recovery of straw from fields by 15 percent through minor improvements to harvesting machinery.
- We can double crop yields per hectare by converting to cropping systems with a longer growing system using perennial crops such as willow or grass and by using break crops.
- We can significantly reduce nitrate leaching by converting to more environmentally friendly cropping systems such as perennial crops, expanded use of cover crops and afforestation.
- We can increase forest growth through development of new varieties and by using faster-growing trees.
- We can harvest the biomass from approx. 70,000 ha lowland meadow and also increase biodiversity by preventing invasion of nettles and willow. At the same time we can remove biomass and nutrients from approx. 7,000 ha road verges to increase floral diversity.
- Other actions include a better utilisation of slurry from livestock production, new cereal varieties that produce more straw without reducing grain yield, increased mobilisation of biomass from forests and an expansion of the forested area and the harvesting of grass from meadows.
A realisation of these solutions will require a massive investment in research and development in future years, particularly within agriculture and forestry, but also within the biological and chemical conversion of biomass.
The 10-million-tonne plan
The ambition to create sustainable solutions in the energy sector has prompted scientists from University of Copenhagen, Aarhus University and research and development officers from DONG Energy to draw up a collaboration agreement that will launch concrete initiatives within science and development in green energy.
An important part of this collaboration is the ”The 10-million-tonne plan”. The initiative supports the strategy of the BioRefining Alliance, which brings together important actors and suppliers within biorefining and biomass production and aims to strengthen Denmark’s position throughout the value chain from sustainable utilisation of bioresources to biobased products.
As part of the collaboration agreement, senior advisor Morten Gylling has been appointed the contact person at the University of Copenhagen and head of research and development Charles Nielsen has been appointed the contact person at DONG Energy.