European study examines supply chain
Dec. 10, 2014 - The European forest biomass sector is struggling under the weight of demand, with a lack of unified policy between countries stunting the effectiveness of transnational supply chains.
By Amie Silverwood
EU funded research project FOROPA is helping to ease some of this pressure through the establishment of an international cooperation platform that will help renewable biomass energy remain a viable alternative to fossil fuels.
Biomass accounts for almost 15% of the world’s total energy supply and as much as 35% in developing countries, where it is used mostly for cooking and heating. However many are unaware that forest biomass is also one of the most important sources of renewable energy in central and southeast Europe. Increasing demand and an underdeveloped supply chain are putting unprecedented strain on a renewable energy source that offers a viable alternative to fossil fuel production.
Despite the diversification of the sector and large demand for this renewable energy resource, support for the supply network is limited to local or regional initiatives with low international integration. EU funded research project FOROPA has sought to address this by raising the level of networking in order to improve cross-national biomass supply chains.
Through its research, the project has found that although forestry policy necessarily remains a national agenda in Europe, the lack of a unified policy means that the difference in practice between countries is sometimes huge. The basic set up remains the same: forests are owned privately and the biomass is harvested by small enterprises, but differences in technology can vary wildly. “In Austria, the supply chain management of biomass is fully mechanised, with a lot of information and communication technology integrated into the process,” states project coordinator Roland Oberwimmer. “If you go across the border to Slovenia, however, the huge machines suddenly become chainsaws, and the sophisticated transport vehicles become tractors or even horses.
“Despite these differences, when you look beyond the technologies, the needs of the supply chains are often the same. They want to get biomass to the right place, at the right time, of the right quantity and of the right quality at the right price.”
The FOROPA project held its final conference in Bolzano last month, showcasing the tangible results it has produced. These included the establishment of an international collaboration platform with an expert pool and a knowledge repository. The repository contains best in class examples and an important information database. It has also paved the way for a research agenda on biomass supply chain management and created a transferable framework and guideline for the improvement of logistics chains to help make the most from the already established chains.
With recent efficiency increases in the production of other renewable energy sources, it is now more important than ever that the production chains for biomass energy are refined and diversified on an international level to support growth and help biomass energy remain a viable alternative to fossil fuels.