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Fuel for the Future

Do you know where your garbage is going?

My first question was: “Where I can find the brown paper bags we were instructed to place our food waste in?”  Jake and I scoured two large grocery stores for these bags and came home empty handed.  I asked my Danish friend for some help, he was able to give us some advice on where we can get some more bags, but then said to me: “Do you know what all the compost(food) is used for”.  He proceed to tell me it was used to help fuel the buses. Intrigued by this I began to research this for myself.  Once again I was impressed by Sweden for their strides in creating a cleaner environment and more sustainable energy source for future generations.

Sweden’s focus Bio-fuels:

European countries are turning towards bio-fuels for energy.  In an effort to reduce, and eventually replace the use of fossil fuels.  Sweden is one of the highest users of biofuels in Europe, at 32%.   Sweden’s energy usage is divided into three sections: housing and services, industry, and transportation. This includes total usage for heating, electricity and vehicle fuel.  In 2014, Sweden used 555 TWh(Terawatt hours) of which 130 came from bio-fuels.[1] Comparatively, in 2016 the US had a mere 10% of their energy consumption coming from renewable energy.  With a staggering 80.7% coming from fossil fuels, and the remainder coming from nuclear.[2]  Sweden’s focus on utilizing biofuels instead of fossil fuels has reduced greenhouse emissions by 25% from 1990-2014.[3]

History of Bio-fuels in Sweden:

Sweden has a long history of bio-fuel usage, which has steadily increased dating back to 1970.  Between the years 1970-2009 bio-fuel supply has increased significantly from 43 TWh to 127 TWh.[4]  The increased use of bio-fuels is likely due to the increase of heating in Sweden’s municipalities in the 80’s, among other things, such as the oil crisis in the 70’s.  The Swedish government who clearly favors and supports this initiative has created financial incentives for transitioning to biofuels and moving away from fossil fuels, this is another likely culprit.

More than just waste:

The use of bio-fuels goes beyond the food waste placed in your bins for pick up.  There are other bio-energy sources to consider, that all have their benefits, and all support a more sustainable future away from the use of fossil fuels.

Wood Fuels

Wood fuels account for 90% of the biomass in Sweden.  This includes parts of the trees that cannot otherwise be used for timber or paper production.  Recycled wood is also considered bio-fuel. The other 10% of biomass comes from waste, industry bi-products, biogas and farmable fuels.[5]

Waste

Only combustible waste, such as cardboard, plastic and biological material, is counted as bio-fuel. It can be burned to produce energy, while organic matter can be composted to produce rich soil or used for biogas production. Most of the waste in Sweden comes from households, while a smaller part is provided by the industry. Sweden has now made it illegal to deposit unsorted combustible waste, with materials that can not be burned.[6]

Industrial By-Products

A lot of wood related industries create bi-products. Forest industry uses its own residual products, such as chips, bark etc. Pulp industry burns its by-products to create steam to bleach paper and produce electricity.[7]

Farmable Fuels

Farmable fuels are intentionally grown plants, in most cases monocultures. Farm land is used to grow fast growing crops, such as flax and hemp, and forests, mostly salix, which can be burned, used to produce bio-gas, ethanol, biodiesel or other types of bio-fuel.[8]

Transportation Goals:

Sweden has committed to using more vehicles that use biofuels. Swedish parliament drove this change when they made the decision that Sweden should have a fossil free vehicle fleet. The goal is now to reduce emissions from transport by 70% by 2030 and then completely switch to fossil free traffic. This can be accomplished by using more electric vehicles and switching from fossil fuel vehicles to biofuel.[9]  With increased sales and production in flexfuel vehicles for personal consumers and public transportation fleets, and the requirements set in place since 2004 that requires fueling stations to provide alternative methods Sweden is making great progress towards their goals. Sweden’s efforts to find more sustainable methods for energy benefit our environment, create jobs through utilization of farmable fuels, and ensure a better future for generations to come.

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