Infrastructure, resource demands and spatial implications of biomass-based residential heating systems

Over the coming decades, energy systems around the world will undergo a fundamental transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources in order to reconcile the apparently conflicting demands of climate protection and energy security. Increasing the use of biomass is one way to increase not only the share of renewables for energy sector but also construction materials. In Germany, woody biomass has been a long tradition as well as most direct-use of heating method since forest accounts for about 30 % of land.

Traditionally, biomass combustion is assumed to be climate neutral. While it is argued that we can simply plant more trees to replace the wood we have burned, of course it takes years for the trees to mature and remove an equivalent amount of CO2 from the atmosphere. On the other hand, timber-based construction may offer effective possibilities for long term carbon storage. Indeed, it is unclear what would be the most efficient way to use woody biomass and do we have enough resources and land to supply both biomass-based heating system as well as timber-based construction?

Given the limits of land and planetary capacity, it is important to ensure that substituting non-renewable resources by woody biomass does not result in loosing biodiversity, natural forest and agricultural land. Hence, the aim of INFRA-RES is to investigate how much materials, direct/ indirect land, embodied energy needed and CO2 emissions emitted to build up renewable energy systems. Particularly, it shall examine trade-offs between resource demands and spatial implications of biomass-based heating system and timber-based construction at household scale in Germany. The research will provide a holistic concept by combining a set of sustainability assessments: Ecological Footprint, Carbon Footprint, Material Flow Analysis and Ecosystem Services, to capture both quantitative and qualitative aspects of environmental impacts.

The core hypothesis of the research is that, in creating sustainable renewable energy infrastructure, technological solutions alone might not be enough to support the society to move towards a low-carbon future. This means that recognition the limitation of land, materials, energy, local situations, ecosystems, climates, etc. is the path in determining options for renewable energy infrastructure and to operate the systems within finite resources. The expected outcome of INFRA-RES is to contribute to the IOER’s research on spatial implications and resource efficiency of energy transition towards decarbonisation pathways.

The Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development is jointly funded by the federal government and the federal states.

FS Sachsen

This measure is co-financed by tax funds on the basis of the budget approved by the Saxon State Parliament.