Biomass for energy consists of much more than just wood and manure, which humans have used for thousands of years for heating and cooking. This collective term also covers wood shavings, clippings from banks along roads and railways, organic waste from industry and trade, and sewage sludge. WSL research shows that biomass, especially wood from forests and farm manure, i.e. dung and liquid manure, contains a lot of dormant renewable energy. If this is used, less climate-damaging greenhouse gases such as methane are produced. About nine percent of Switzerland’s gross energy consumption could be covered. Unlike wind and solar energy, bioenergy has the advantage that it can be produced at any time and not only when the wind blows or the sun shines.
Until now, it was not known how much biomass was sustainably available to use for generating energy in each municipality in Switzerland. WSL researchers have therefore investigated how much of each type of biomass regularly accrues. They also use social and political indicators, e.g. about the employment and incomes in the municipality or the results of the vote on the Energy Strategy 2050. Knowing these parameters can help to assess the chances that a bioenergy project will be implemented.
Hotspots on the Central Plateau and in cities
“Our results show, for the first time, which regions have the best potential for using more biomass,” says Vanessa Burg from WSL. The study indicates hotspots, i.e. regions where a particular type or types of biomass can be found in large quantities, such as areas with a lot of forest wood, farm manure or sewage sludge. Most of these hotspots are on the Central Plateau, especially in Cantons Zurich, Bern or Vaud, where there are many farms producing large quantities of manure. Moreover cities and agglomerations are also hotspots since there a lot of organic waste and sewage sludge is produced within a small area. Alpine regions, in contrast, contain no biomass hotspots according to the study, even though they have considerable reserves in the form of, e.g. forest wood. Harvesting and transporting it, however, would be expensive.
Information about the biomass potentials identified in the study is stored in a Geographic Information System (GIS) and will be made available via the Internet. “This then provides a municipality with a good basis for deciding whether they want to produce additional energy from biomass or not,” says Vanessa. (Reinhard Lässig, Diagonal 2/18)