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Finland Will Need to Import Biomass to Keep Warm

FILE - Smoke rises from the Hanasaari coal power plant in Helsinki, Finland, November 28, 2016. (Jussi Nukari/Lehtikuva/via REUTERS)
Finland Will Need to Import Biomass to Keep Warm
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Finland is the most heavily forested country in Europe. That makes Finland rich in biomass.

Biomass is fuel developed from organic materials. It includes forest, parts of trees as well as plant and animal waste. Yet the northern European nation may soon be unable to meet an expected 70% rise in demand for biomass fuel once it stops using coal.

Earlier this year, Finland approved a measure to ban the use of coal in energy production by May 2029. Power companies will now have to find other ways to keep Finns warm. Coal currently makes up about 20% of the energy used for heating homes.

There are limited plans to use more natural gas to produce heat. Other heating sources, such as geothermal energy and the sun’s energy, are not yet commercially viable in Finland. In other words, power companies lack the technology to effectively use such sources and earn a profit.

Many experts believe that using more biomass is the most economical way of meeting the country’s future energy needs.

The management consulting service Poyry advises the government on Finland’s energy, industry and public service needs. It estimates that the country will need 64 terawatt hours' worth of biomass in 2030 for energy production alone. The current usage is 38 terawatt hours.

However, Finland’s supply of biomass is expected to grow by only eight terawatt hours between now and 2030.

As a result, Poyry says the country will have to import biomass as well as improve its management of forests. It also says Finland will need to depend more on harvested plant wastes for energy.

Finland’s largest special interest group on energy issues also predicts large increases in the use of biomass in coming years.

Jukka Leskela is the head of the group, called Energia. He said, “It’s slightly awkward that Finland would run an energy policy that will make us a net importer of biomass. We are a forest country.” He spoke to the Reuters news agency.

FILE PHOTO: Piles of logs await processing at the UPM paper mill in Kajaani, Finland, July 21, 2008. REUTERS/Bob Strong/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Piles of logs await processing at the UPM paper mill in Kajaani, Finland, July 21, 2008. REUTERS/Bob Strong/File Photo

Less costly to import

Forests cover 75% of Finland’s land. But the number of trees harvested is limited by law, with most of the wood saved for the pulp industry. The government would be unable to add much more supply for energy use.

Riku Huttunen is head of Finland’s energy office. He said, “The pressure is to limit the use of (domestic) wood... it is normally used in the regions where there is a lot of wood and fewer people but now we are talking about towns with very little forest and many people. It is evident that we need imports.”

Huttunen added that moving biomass from northern Finland was also a limitation. Shipping biomass from neighboring countries was less costly.

Such imports could come from other countries around the Baltic Sea, including Sweden, Estonia and Russia.

Energia estimates show biomass will make up nearly 60 percent of the fuel mix in Finland’s combined heat and power factories in 2030. That is up from the current usage of less than 30 percent.

Finland has seven combined heat and power plants that use coal either as the main or backup fuel for homes and businesses.

Industry officials say the country will also make greater use of heat pumps and surplus heat from data centers, as well as heat storage solutions.

I’m Jill Robbins.

Lefteris Karagiannopoulos reported this story for the Reuters news service. Jonathan Evans adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

source – n. a person, place or things from which something comes

geothermal adj. related to heat produced from inside the Earth

management n. the process of controlling or dealing with people or things

pulp n. a soft, wet and shapeless material

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