Is burning biomass the solution to prevent fires?

"Everything that burns in a boiler, stops burning in the forest.

02 August 2022 Tuesday 00:57
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Is burning biomass the solution to prevent fires?

"Everything that burns in a boiler, stops burning in the forest." This is how forceful Francesc Cano is, deputy director of transfer at the Center for Forestry Science and Technology of Catalonia (CTFC). Cano refers to the forest biomass that is extracted from the forests to be used for energy purposes. A biomass to which more and more industries are switching due to the high price of gas.

"We are lucky that Catalonia is one of the areas of Europe with the most potential in the field of biomass," says Marc Cortina, manager of the Bioenergy Cluster of Catalonia. However, "of the three million cubic meters of forest material that are generated each year in Catalonia, only one million is used, which means that year after year we accumulate two million of forest material," warns the CTFC expert.

More forest matter is equivalent to more risk of fires in a region, Catalonia, in which the forest area already occupies 64% of the territory. On the other hand, if 6,000 tons of this forest material are used annually by an industry for the generation of thermal energy, it contributes to preventing fires in 60 hectares of forest, according to calculations by the Bioenergy Cluster.

The rise in the price of gas, as well as the push to promote renewable energy sources, including biomass, is seen as a great economic opportunity for the definitive takeoff of the forestry sector. “We have the raw material and an increasing demand, but we lack the facilities to extract the biomass from the forests,” says Cortina. This is a historical complaint.

"The training problems and the lack of mechanization mean that there are not enough personnel to work in the extraction of wood," explains Jordi Serra, president of the Bioenergy Cluster. The main sawmills in Catalonia, grouped under the umbrella of the Associació de Rematans i Serradors de Catalunya (Arescat), began, last April, a series of stoppages in production to protest the lack of raw material with which to work .

Another big problem in the sector is the low prices received, a consequence, in part, of the low added value of the uses given to the wood. "Of the million cubic meters that are extracted annually, about 250,000 are firewood, about 200,000 end up transformed into pallets and the remaining 550,000 are used as biomass, especially in the form of chips and, to a lesser extent, in the form of pellets," he says. Francis Cano. "The reality today is that it costs money for an owner to manage his forest property and what has to be achieved is for it to be profitable," adds the CTFC expert. Among the uses with the highest added value, the construction of buildings stands out.

Serra asks for “more involvement” on the part of the administrations “to promote” a sector that he describes as “key”, especially in a summer marked by forest fires like this one. The next summers are not going to be better. The United Nations forecasts a 30% increase in forest fires by 2050 and 50% by the end of the century.

While Catalonia is wasting the economic potential of its forests, it is paying an expensive social and economic bill for neglecting its management. Beyond the personal, material and environmental costs caused by a fire, the professor at the EAE Business School May López calculates that "putting out a forest fire costs around 10,000 euros per hectare". On the other hand, clearing a hectare of forest costs between 1,500 and 2,500 euros, according to the Center de la Propietat Forestal.



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