a resource to replace gas? / Article

He pointed out that Russia’s war in Ukraine has forced Europe to reassess its current policy and international relations. Especially in terms of strategic aspects such as security, supply, communications and energy independence. It should be noted that at the end of April 2022, the Baltic forest owner organizations signed a joint letter of European forest owners and sent it to the leaders of the European Union, Ursula von der Leyen and Frans Timmermans, on the need to build European security and a supply using local renewable resources instead of Russian gas.

More than 1 million TJ

Mužnieks explained what he said with the fact that more than half of Latvia is covered with forests and the forested area of ​​the country continues to grow. According to research conducted by the Latvian National Forest Research Institute “Silava”, the amount of energy that can be obtained from less valuable wood grades and residual wood produced by felling is estimated at 1, 05-1.15 million terajoules (TJ), which does not mean to include the amount of energy that could be obtained from wood located outside of forests, such as overgrown ditches and infrastructure sites.

Currently, Latvia also has a huge amount of stands with surplus trees of low-value species. For example, there are approximately 23 million cubic meters of wood in mature and overmature mountain alder stands. “We have the resources, we just need the will to become independent, using our local renewable resources,” said A. Muižnieks.

It should be noted that the forest area in Latvia has doubled compared to just 20 years ago and the amount of wood growing in the forests has tripled. In addition, wood is a climate-neutral material: its use to produce energy is not contrary to climate objectives, as it replaces fossil fuels.

Over the summer, the government introduced forestry changes aimed at bringing forest management conditions more in line with logging regulations adopted in the region, as well as creating resilient forest stands in the future. to the climate. For the felling of trees, the amendments envisage reducing the permitted felling diameter of the lowest trees by a few centimeters, bringing this indicator closer to the Estonian standard.

For better climate resilience, forest owners will be required to restore felled forests using high quality plant material. In terms of natural diversity, an average of 8 snag trees will have to be left when felled, instead of the previous 5. This incentivizes forest owners who deliberately cultivate timber as a renewable resource, and have the opportunity to reach their goal faster by contributing to the production of renewable raw materials, which is essential to move away from fossil raw materials. .

Notably, in Finland there is no restriction on the diameter or the age of felling, but only the basic condition that the areas must be restored. Sweden also has no restriction on felling diameter, and trees can be felled at ages 45, 50, 60, 65, 70, 80, 90, depending on growing conditions. Meanwhile, in Estonia, the cutting diameter for pine is 28 cm, for spruce it is 26 cm, for birch 22–26 cm, and now, without age restrictions, the cutting diameter in Latvia will also be set at 30 cm for pine, 26 cm for spruce and 25 cm for birch.

“This increases the availability of wood in two ways. First, by supplying firewood, as Latvian heat supply companies switch from natural gas to biofuel. Second, it could at least partially offset the import of timber and timber products from Russia and Belarus, which has ceased due to sanctions related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” explained Kristaps Klauss, Director Executive of the Latvian Forest Industry Federation.

He predicted that with the end of imports of wood chips from Russia and Belarus, these will be replaced by local resources and therefore the amount of wood chips exported will decrease. In the meantime, during the 2023/2024 heating season, many Latvian heating suppliers will switch from gas to wood chips. Evidenced by the projects for which they applied, with a capacity of about 270 MW.

Questions from neighbors

Muižnieks admitted that very high firewood prices are a good incentive for forest owners to cut down and process forest stands of low-demand trees, such as gray alder or trembling aspen, which do not is useful only for firewood. However, forest owners may face the problem of logging. According to information available to the Muižnieks, discussions are taking place in Lithuania on how to obtain a sufficient supply of biomass for energy from their own forests.

In Lithuania, about 80% of central heating is based on wood, but until recently almost half of the necessary biofuel (wood chips) – about 2 million m3 – was imported from Belarus, which is currently impossible .

The situation is different in Estonia, which increases the use of biomass in central heating every year, and now 60% of central heating uses wood (mainly biomass). According to A. Muižnieks, the owners
private forests could make better use of underdeveloped alder groves, using them to replace natural gas for heating. Replacing gas with wood would mean an annual logging increase of less than 5%. In Estonia, firewood is not considered a quick fix to replace Russian gas, and gas cannot be easily replaced with wood in a gas boiler. It requires major reconstruction. Since Estonia has its own fossil fuel, oil shale, our northern neighbors can use the oil extracted from it.

Gas boilers require only minor adjustments to replace gas with shale oil. Although firewood is not a quick fix, it will indeed strengthen its position in the energy sector in the long run. In Estonia, there is also a support measure for local boiler houses switching from fossil fuels to renewable energies from autumn. But this will give results only in several years. Muižnieks also pointed out that the forestry sector in Latvia can replace natural gas, but cannot be implemented due to EU requirements, which stipulate that at least 10% of the country’s territory must be fully protected (without any commercial activity) and an additional 30% of it must
be protected by certain trade restrictions, which also affects timber harvesting.

This feature is reproduced with the kind permission of the German-Baltic Chamber of Commerce of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. You can see the official site and read more about the Baltic Business Quarterly magazine here: https://www.ahk-balt.org/lv/publikacijas/zurnals.