Critical examination of the committed biomass strategy of Vattenfall Europe AG for Berlin

I have already outed myself as an admirer of the material and energetic use of biomass. Therefore, as a Berliner, I am particularly pleased about the path taken by the energy company Vattenfall Europe AG, which is pursuing a very committed biomass strategy for the federal capital of Berlin. Since the formulated biomass vision and the necessary funds are not always congruent in practical implementation, the biomass strategy is not without controversy. That is why the following article is intended to summarize the sometimes emotionally led discussion about Vattenfall's Berlin biomass cogeneration plants. The arguments on the pros and cons side should be added, and ideally some new arguments should be added.

Biomass CHP plants for Berlin - facts and potential

Vattenfall claims to be the fifth largest electricity producer in Europe. In line with this position, the measures and objectives aimed at in the field of energy use of biomass are also enormous.

Here are some facts and figures about Vattenfall's biomass strategy:

  • Biomass power plants should support the reduction of CO2 production in Berlin by 50% by 2020
  • The total annual consumption of biomass for energy generation from Vattenfall is currently around 3 million tons
  • According to the company, 60% of the biomass currently used comes from household waste and commercial waste
  • Use of efficient cogeneration for the production of electricity and heat in all power plants in Vattenfalls CHP model city Berlin
  • Installation of one of the largest virtual power plants in Germany by the end of 2011. This will use 31 combined heat and power plants (CHP) that reduce the consumption of natural gas fed biomethane enable.

In einem older article Vattenfall's plans to restructure the Klingenberg coal-fired power plant into a biomass cogeneration plant have already been reported. In one another article describes the laying of the foundation stone for Berlin's first biomass cogeneration plant, the Märkisches Viertel district heating plant, on August 23.08.2011, XNUMX.

By 2019, several power plants from the Vattenfall power plant park in Berlin and Hamburg will be converted to biomass. The method of co-firing, in which biomass and coal are burned in combination to generate electricity and heat, is also to be used.

Biomass and coal are relatively similar in their composition and they contain the same biochemical energy source with high-energy hydrocarbons. The advantage of biomass is that it grows back as a renewable energy source even in manageable periods. The energy source biochar is also interesting in this context (see Article on biochar).

In April this year, the Berlin Senate and Vattenfall Europe AG signed an agreement to comply with sustainability criteria for the procurement of woody biomass. Vattenfall undertakes to apply the agreed sustainability standards for the procurement of biomass immediately and not to wait for binding legal regulations. Here is the official one Press release the Berlin Senate Department.

In addition, Vattenfall was only a few weeks ago at the European Biomass Conference 2011 (see article) was awarded the EUBIA Industry Award for its biomass efforts.

There are therefore many indications that Vattenfall recognizes the environmental standards as important aspects of its conversion to biomass and takes them into account in the change.

Do the present criticisms of the biomass strategy come exclusively from the ranks of very motivated environmental activists who only work for the ecological aspects of large-scale projects?

The catchment area of ​​the biomass cogeneration plants and considerations regarding the carbon footprint

2 tons of biomass are expected to be needed annually for the 400.000 biomass blocks being built at the Klingenberg power plant in Berlin-Lichtenberg. Most of the renewable raw materials are to be sourced from an area with a radius of 200 km around Berlin.

A crucial question is where the remaining quantities of wood for future bioenergetic firing of the power plants will come from. According to calculations, the freely available forest areas of Berlin and Brandenburg are not sufficient to supply the required quantities of wood. It is even controversial whether “the majority” can actually be obtained from this radius.

The carbon footprint of biomass cogeneration plants is particularly good if the biomass is obtained from the smallest possible radius around the power plant. But that doesn't mean that well-traveled wood cannot always have a better carbon footprint than (well-traveled) coal.

Coal has a higher energy content and a lower water content than transported tree trunks, but it remains a fossil fuel that releases additional carbon dioxide. The transport of energy-tight wood pellets, wood chips or previously processed biochar are not even taken into account in these considerations regarding the carbon footprint of biomass cogeneration plants.

Nevertheless, the strengths of the energetic use of biomass in the currently available technologies lie in their regional use. The widest possible use of the available wood from the Berlin-Brandenburg area also supports regional forestry - you shouldn't forget that!

The assumptions about the amounts of wood that have to be imported internationally for the Berlin biomass CHP plants differ. What is certain is that part of the energy wood should come from the West African country of Liberia. What share of timber imports would still be acceptable to secure the timber needs? As so often, it depends on the perspective.

So here is a perspective that I have not heard of so far. What do the Liberians think about the partnership in the timber trade between Vattenfall and Liberia?

"Wood from Africa for warm rooms in Berlin?" - PowerShift eV

This is the somewhat provocative title of a brochure that was recently published by the PowerShift eV association.

PowerShift is a Berlin association founded in 2010 that advocates “an ecological, solidarity-based energy and global economy”. For further information on the activities and priorities of the association, I would like to visit the PowerShift website eV recommend.

A film on the subject was also published in parallel with the brochure. The special thing about the film, to which the director of PowerShift Peter Fuchs drew my attention, is that you get to see the perspective of Liberians who are actively working to strengthen the rights of farmers in Liberia.

The film strikes a good balance between presenting facts and questioning the effects of Vattenfall's biomass strategy. What do Liberians think about partnering with the energy giant and exporting their wood? The film is critical but not judgmental.

According to the filmmakers, it is irresponsible to export the important resource of wood from Liberia as long as it does not meet its own energy needs. A 14-year civil war until 2003 largely destroyed the power grids.

There is also a well-researched brochure by Marc Engelhardt on the PowerShift website "Wood from Africa for warm rooms in Berlin" on the topic of biomass imports from Africa. This also contains many interesting and relevant details from the energy industry.

The conclusions of the brochure that are drawn in the specific case on Vattenfall's biomass strategy are personally too drastic for me and somewhat concentrated on the negative potential. Different opinions are important and please decide for yourself.

Thank you for this new perspective and the research on site in Liberia to PowerShift eV!

Buchanan Renewables as a Liberian partner of Vattenfall Europe

In order to meet the high demand for wood, Vattenfall has signed an agreement with the Liberian company Buchanan Renewables.

On the company's website, Buchanan Renewables presents itself as an environmentally conscious manufacturer of wood chips from rubber trees with high social standards and a clear mission in the field of renewable energies. The aim is to become the leading manufacturer of regenerative fuels in developing countries.

The biomass vision of Buchanan Renewables sounds very modern to my ears and should help the country, which was still damaged by the civil war, to rebuild.

When growing the biomass, rubber trees are mainly used, which no longer produce milk juice and are therefore no longer suitable for material use (rubber production).

According to an article in Time magazine (dated July 13, 2009), Buchanan Renewables also signed thousands of contracts with Liberian rubber plantation farmers to share the profits of international biomass trade with the broadest possible social base.

Just a few weeks ago, Buchanan Renewables also received the "Green Award 2011" when the African Business Awards received in London. This award is given to the company that has demonstrated outstanding performance and an environmentally oriented willingness to lead on the African continent. Buchanan received him for his intensive measures to improve the social, economic and ecological conditions in Liberia.

I can neither clearly confirm nor refute whether these very demanding goals can also be achieved with suitable measures. The film, which is embedded above and partly shot on location in Liberia, is relatively critical of the implementation.

The problem with a really attractive vision is that it usually loses some of its luster due to the problems with its implementation in practice. However, I think that it must be allowed to set very high goals as a company - even if these reflect a more difficult to achieve ideal.

Pros and cons of non-European imports of biomass

International partnerships between economic developing countries and industrialized countries offer many opportunities (new jobs, cash flows, development opportunities) and at the same time harbor a high potential for conflict.

To recognize the potential for conflict, you can look at numerous examples from history. A suitable thematic (rubber plantations in Africa), albeit a very cruel (!) Example, is surely the exploitation of the Congo by the Belgian King Leopold II between 1880 and 1920. But you don't have to go back so far and so extreme to Find examples of international exploitation.

On the other hand, there are also very positive examples of partnerships that have led to a win-win situation on both sides. Most of them GIZ projects - Society for international cooperation (formerly GTZ) in the field of biomass can certainly be mentioned here.

International trade in biomass cannot therefore be assessed in a blanket manner. But what can be said is that:

  • Bioenergy shows its ecological strengths especially in the regional, decentralized use
  • the most necessary timber needs of the exporting country must be covered before considering exports
  • a minimum level of environmental and social standards must be observed
  • trade between countries with stable political conditions is more fruitful for the developing country than if the dangers of a more corruption-prone government exist

Countries with high biomass production rates should have the chance to use their natural resources for their economic development and to enter into partnerships with large energy companies from industrialized countries.

How the foreign money is used by the respective exporting countries (in the case of Liberia) cannot and should not actually be the task of the respective investors (in the case of Vattenfall). As usual, exceptions confirm the rule.

The development of fair trade certificates for wood, as they already exist in the food sector, could help the farmers of the exporting country to get the best possible share of the profits. However, this would lead to a slight increase in the price of this energy product, which electricity customers would then have to be prepared to pay. For example, new certification criteria could be added to the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) criteria for sustainable forestry.

Here is the link to a recently published one Articlewho is involved in other bioenergetic projects on the African continent.

Conclusion on Vattenfall's biomass strategy for biomass CHP plants in Berlin

The special thing about renewable energies lies in their power that they allow you to believe a little bit in the further development of the world. Renewable energies and thus bioenergy are also a technological symbol for progress and ultimately for a better world.

This pound of renewable energies must not only be used, but also protected. It is also easy to gamble away this strength of renewable energies if, for example, one-sidedly only optimizes for ecological results and at the same time forgets to take social factors into account - or vice versa.

In my opinion, however, this will not be forgotten in Vattenfall's international biomass strategy. Personally, I find the Vattenfaller Biomass “Vision” for Berlin to be quite positive, as it is also a courageous departure from fossil coal and nevertheless, economically sensible, uses the investments made so far in the Berlin power plant park.

I therefore think that starting the co-firing of biomass in former coal-fired power plants is a good ecological and economic compromise that enables the fusion of fossil and regenerative energy production.

Of course, the interests of the Liberians must also be high on the agenda! My research has shown at least nothing to the contrary.

Since the beginning of the year, certification systems to ensure the sustainability of liquid biomass (see article) compulsory in Germany. Above all, ecological criteria are considered, which are the most urgent to solve. Compliance with social criteria for cultivation and, in future, perhaps also for trading in biomass could be developed in the future.

What do you think about the biomass strategy for Berlin? Do you find the import of wood from far away countries justifiable or unacceptable?

Discuss with us![/ fusion_builder_column] [/ fusion_builder_row] [/ fusion_builder_container]

12 comments on “Critical examination of the committed biomass strategy of Vattenfall Europe AG for Berlin”

  1. Importing biomass does not make sense.
    For me, renewable means producing energy directly and decentrally.
    From biogas plants, I can produce gas that can be cleaned and fed into the natural gas network. But wood from Africa for Berlin ??? What is ecological?

    with sunny greetings from Bavaria Olching Josef Simon

  2. Hello Mr. Simon, thank you for your comment. As far as I know, the treatment of household waste, which in addition to high-calorific packaging waste (yellow sack) also contains organic matter, was taken over by pure waste incineration plants (MVA). However, this was not primarily about the energetic use of the biomass contained, but above all about reducing the amount of waste to be landfilled in the form of slag.

    In recent years, the energy recovery of organic waste has become increasingly important as the last stage of use.

    The CoFiring process of biomass in fossil power plants and the previous conversion (pyrolysis, gasification) of the heterogeneous biomass into syngas or coal dust will make the energetic use of biomass much more efficient (combined heat and power). For the most part, this is still a long way off and the technologies are still in development, especially for industrial applications.

    Best regards.

  3. I still work as a one-man show but I have an energy in Poland
    plant discovered that brings a bit more quality of life.
    It is grown wherever biomass energy is needed.

    The sida plant has a sustainable potential, higher yield than any
    Rotation plantation and all values ​​related to its combustion are included
    To consider AAA. You can have a 4 person household from one hectare
    heat comfortably and the costs are only half as high as for OIL
    GAS or COAL. The added value remains in the region and you still get 100 kg of honey per hectare, if the bees are actually already hibernated, the Sida blooms until the first frost. The Sida can be burned as wood chips or as a pellet.

    Greetings from Poland
    PS.Polen is currently building the largest biomass cogeneration plant in the world

  4. Hello "Sida", thank you very much for your comment on the fascinating energy plant Sida!

    For everyone who, like me, has never heard of this plant, is here a brief introduction with the most important facts about this promising energy and fiber plant, which can look back on a long tradition in Poland. Sida is a perennial plant that, due to its rapid growth (high yields), good calorific values ​​and uncomplicated cultivation, is suitable for many bioenergetic uses (solid, liquid and gaseous bioenergy).

    A really interesting energy plant that is probably also suitable for growing on German fields. A stronger Polish-German cooperation regarding the cultivation of the Sida would be great.

    When the largest biomass CHP plant in the world (see article) is built (190 MW!), then the collaboration with Vattenfall Berlin is probably only an emergency alternative for the sale of biomass from Poland that can be used for energy.

    Greetings from Berlin,

  5. In the projects in Berlin, some of the pellets are apparently to be ground to dust / chips, in order to then be burned together with coal dust (co-firing).
    Can this really make sense to finely grind the pellets that were first pressed with the appropriate amount of energy?

    And maybe some information on the question of whether we should import wood to generate heat / electricity: Even in the record year 2007, a total of around 75 million cubic meters of wood was felled in Germany. This means that even if we burned all of the logging, each inhabitant would have an average of less than 1 cubic meter of wood available - which would not even begin to cover the heat demand (not to mention the need for electrical energy). In my opinion, this shows that domestic wood as fuel can only cover a very limited part of the energy requirement. And importing wood as fuel from developing countries is definitely reminiscent of colonial conditions.

    Thanks and best regards!

  6. Thank you for the detailed comment. These are partly sobering figures about the available amount of wood in Germany.

    Fortunately, bioenergy does not have to replace energy consumption from fossil fuels (electricity and heat) alone, but can rely on a strong team of renewable energies. In the heat supply (especially from big cities) it will probably only work in the medium term with the use of the fossils.

    A difficult question is whether the use of wood pellets, including the described process (pressing pellets + grinding pellets again) really makes sense. After all, wood pellets have a very low water content and a high energy density per volume. This leads at least to a good CO2 balance during transport and at the same time to low fuel costs. Wood pellets are therefore probably more suitable than wood chips, logs or even sawdust.

    The use of round wood or trunk wood would probably be similarly good, but because of its high quality it is not suitable for energy use. According to the biomass use cascade, the high-quality wood segments should first be used materially and only the wood waste and waste wood should be used for energy. Perhaps in the medium term there are even better ways to improve the energy balance of solid biomass as an energy source (especially for large power plants).

    The topic of wood imports is really very difficult and there are many positive potentials (especially for biomass-rich developing countries), but also great risks.

    Best regards.

  7. See the only problem with the long transport routes and that the forests are swept empty, which is not good for the forest and new trees in the long term. Otherwise I find the biomass utilization good. This is a natural and ecological way.

  8. Hallo,
    basically an article worth reading that illuminates several pages.

    Unfortunately, if you put the words "critical consideration" in front of your article, the critical aspect is lacking.
    This aspect concerns the question: Do coal-fired large-scale power plants continue to exist in the regenerative age?
    The answer from all independent experts is: no.

    Because regardless of whether Vattenfall contributes solid biomass to its coal-fired power plants, primarily coal-fired power plants remain. And on the one hand, these cannot be controlled quickly enough to complement the regenerative ones; on the other hand, they remain enormous CO 2 emitters compared to CCGs.
    But if the solid biomass is burned in coal-fired power plants, which oppose the energy transition, and this behavior also means that small, controllable, decentralized systems are not built because the regional input material "solid biomass" is missing, the question arises as to whether the Vattenfall strategy makes sense already answered clearly. The possible reference to a necessary "bridge time" in which coal-fired power plants are still needed does not help at this point. The technology for small decentralized boilers or CHP units based on solid biomass has been on the market for years and can be operated economically. So Vattenfall has no excuse. Vattenfall has only one argument: profit. This is because it is higher with the existing KoKW in Berlin and Hamburg than with small plants, since Vattenfall has a district heating monopoly in both Berlin and Hamburg and thus has a purchase guarantee for its existing oversized large power plants (the profits from the coal-rich district heating are also the reason why Vattenfall fears remunicipalisation in Hamburg and Berlin!). Everyone should decide for themselves whether this should be accepted as a pro-argument for the Vattenfall strategy.
    As a result, Vattenfall literally gives its co-vehicles a green coat. On top of that, Vattenfall takes small, decentralized CHP or HHS boiler operators away from the regional biomass. Exactly the operators who are needed for the energy transition with their quickly controllable systems.
    Of course, Vattenfall could also operate small, decentralized biomass plants. However, for example in Hamburg, Vattenfall has put the construction of a decentralized 12 MW plant on hold and instead wants to burn the solid biomass in its existing co-power plants.
    Vattenfall is demonstrably not interested in the necessary conversion of its coal-heavy German (!) Power plant fleet to small, decentralized plants. If they do so, then only through external pressure from citizens' initiatives and NGOs. Or when old cogeneration plants like the Vattenfall cogeneration plant in Wedel near Hamburg literally fall apart (but even Wedel should have been decommissioned for years, but will now run until at least 2017).

    The general question of what percentage of biomass is imported into Germany and from where and by whom is certainly important. But it is not crucial to expose Vattenfall's “biomass strategy” as a greenwashing campaign.

    Greetings from Hamburg

    Mirco Beisheim

  9. Thank you for this exciting comment, which probably deserves the label "critical" much more than the article itself.

    I agree on many points and am often a little disappointed myself at how little the big energy suppliers and mineral oil companies seem willing to go forward with a lot of force and energetically grab the energy transition by the horns. Until shortly before the announcement of the nuclear phase-out, the profits were really so huge that, in my humble assessment, one could have invested significantly larger sums than the few million that one can happily dismiss as “greenwashing”.

    On the other hand, these companies provide many jobs and have a correspondingly large and direct social responsibility, which they simply take more important than making a great contribution to climate protection, regarding its concrete effects and its speed, opinions differ widely even among scientists fail. In any case, due to creepy scenarios, the established energy suppliers are not starting to move billions of dollars. Large power plants are more efficient than decentralized small plants and, moreover, billions have been invested in the power plants and this is often sufficient as a basis for decisions to justify their operation. That may not always be wrong, because the shouting from shareholders (large and small investors) is certainly also great when suddenly the prices make significant losses.

    Fortunately, the renewables have already caught up well in Germany (at least in the electricity sector 20 percent) and are displacing the electricity from the fossil power plants, so that the fossil power plants have to put up with longer downtimes than planned. Nevertheless, I hope that the representatives of the renewable and fossil energy industries will work together even more closely in the future and will discuss OPEN changes that are acceptable to all parties, but are also rapid. We have to avoid the fact that the energy transition is decided by a few, who of course are financially biased.

    If the political and technological energy transition in Europe succeeds, then this is definitely a great economic opportunity for our continent!

    Greetings from Berlin.

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