The potential influence of sustainability criteria on the European Union pellets market – the example of Sweden

The introduction of sustainability criteria for solid biomass/biofuels on the EU or global level may influence the EU pellets market, e.g. by limiting the eligible biomass supply potential or specific pellet chains. This assessment focuses on greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions and the issue of sustainable forest management for pellets potentially used in Sweden (for residential and/or industrial use).

The paper includes (i) a literature review of recent studies addressing the impact of sustainability requirements (for solid biomass and/or liquid biofuels) on the bioenergy market, (ii) a characterization of sustainable forest management conditions in potential pellets export countries and their capacity to enforce respective legislation, and (iii) an assessment of GHG emissions for heat and electricity for the Swedish market from selected potential wood pellet chains (including torrefaction) and related GHG emissions reduction compared to fossil fuels using a life cycle assessment perspective.

Most of the assessed wood pellet value chains will most likely be able to meet stringent sustainability requirements from a GHG perspective. Thus, the impact of near term GHG emission reduction demands on the Swedish pellets market is limited. More specifically, we find that torrefaction may be advantageous for pellets imported over long-distances (i.e., over approximately 18 500 km). We conclude that demand for sustainable forest management related to solid biofuels will not have a significant or long lasting effect on the market for Swedish pellets. The real impacts of sustainability requirements will however depend on levels of ambition as well as the methodologies and systems boundaries applied in future systems.

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