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Oliver Thees

Forschungsanstalt WSL

Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL
Forest Production Systems
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Author(s): Redaktion waldwissen.net - WSL
Editorial office: WSL, Switzerland
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East European Potential for Synthetic Gas Production out of Timber

Timber is becoming more important as a raw material for fuel. However, in which regions can timber be made into fuel and transported to the end user most economically? Scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) wanted to find an answer to this question. It is a well known fact that in Switzerland more timber could be used for energy production than is at present the case. A study shows that in some east European countries there exists a potential for synthetic gas production.

Erzeugung von Waldhackschnitzeln in einem Laubwald
Fig. 1 - Production of wood chips in a deciduous forest. In Switzerland, as in many east European countries, more timber could be used for the production of energy and fuel.
Photo: Fritz Frutig (WSL)

Methane gas, which is a relatively high quality source of energy, can be produced out of timber. In energy output and quality this synthetic gas equals natural gas. Large amounts of cheap timber are needed to produce this bio-gas. Low quality forest timber and waste materials from the timber industry therefore come into question as raw materials.

Scientists presumed that there were also large reserves of timber available in Eastern Europe which could be used for energy production. And they knew that good transportation possibilities to western consumers were already in existence thanks to the existing network of gas pipe lines. Their analyses show that the Czech Republic, Latvia, Slovenia and Estonia have an especially large potential for synthetic gas production due to available raw materials, as well as a branch specific, political and economic framework. Concrete plans for implementation by interested investors are however dependent on indispensable regional on site studies.

The basis for industrial methane production from timber was developed by the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI). In Güssing in Austria a Swiss-Austrian consortium is testing a pilot and demonstration plant for the production of synthetic gas. This will supply the technological basis for the construction of the first industrial 10-20 megawatt (thermal) plant in Switzerland.

The published study was carried out, against the background of a world wide increase in energy requirements, as part of the Novatlantis project ECOGAS. Apart from the WSL and the PSI, the Institute for Energy and Environment (in the area Bio-energy systems) in Leipzig, as well at the University of Technology Dresden (Professorship for Forest and Timber Industry of Eastern Europe) also took part. The study was co-financed by the Velux Foundation.


  • Translation: Dawn Meister, Stallikon

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