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Collage Populus plantation Bio4Energy2020 400Populus plants at the researchers' field trial plantation in southern Sweden. Photos by courtesy of Henrik Böhlenius.Researchers in Bio4Energy and a partner will investigate the potential for a rollout in Sweden of plantations of fast-growing poplar trees—Populus trichocarpa in Latin—as a means to increase biomass production for making renewable automotive fuels from wood and woody residue.

While there is a great body of scientific literature to describe the trees and their properties in themselves, information on the economics and technical feasibility of doing so at a large scale is relatively scant, according to project leader This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., scientist at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). Contrary to most of the other Bio4Energy scientists who are based in the Swedish north, he is in the southernmost part of the country, at Alnarp.

“We see a great potential for [rollout of] this type of plantation, along the lines of one million hectares that could be added to the current domestic production of bioenergy”, Böhlenius said.

Sweden would benefit from making more advanced biofuels—renewable fuels that do not compete with food production and meet high quality standards in terms of their greenhouse gas footprint—at an affordable cost.

Land is available, to believe official statistics. Roughly 400,000 hectares of agricultural land could be planted with poplar without jeopardsing food production. Another one-to-two million hectare of spruce tree plantations, sitting on former agricultural land, could be used to plant poplar or other fast-growing tree species. 

Field trials have shown that poplar trees can reach medium height (20 metre) and diameter (25 centimetre) at 15-to-20 years of age, depending on where in the country—at what latitude—they are planted. At age 20 they reach maturity and are large.

When compared with spruce and pine—the most planted tree species in Sweden according to AB Timber, and which are harvested at between 80-100 years and 90-150 years, respectively—it is easy to see the benefit.

While one part of the multiannual research project is about identifying where in the country plantations could be set afoot, another part is about assessing the costs and technical feasibility for a substantial rollout. Bio4Energy scientists This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., both of the Luleå University of Technology, have been tasked with looking into suitable process technologies and techno-economic potentials, respectively.

“If we are talking about planting the poplar on perfect[ly prepared] soils, the cost would be one-to-a-few Swedish kronor per plant or more”, Böhlenius said. (SEK1 is 0.95 euro cent, at the going currency rate.)

“Some reports put the return on the capital investment at ten per cent”, he added;

“But overall we know very little about the economics. We hope by the end of this project to have come up with a guideline”.

The project is a collaboration between Bio4Energy scientists focused on research on forest raw materials, technical process and techno-economics. Their partner Persson f.N.B is a small firm specialised in small-scale bioenergy projects, such as development of biofuel or biogas from locally-grown energy crops, based in the southern-central part of Sweden.

The researchers gratefully acknowledge the Swedish Energy Authority and the f3 Centre for Renewable Transportation Fuels for the base funding. Persson f.N.B., SLU and Bio4Energy also contributed funds.

The Bio4Energy Partners

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