Utilisation of peatland reduces emissions compared with coal

According to VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, utilisation of peatland in energy production causes lower greenhouse gas emissions than the use of coal, providing the area is subsequently used for long-term production of renewable energy after peat production. Utilising new technologies is another important way of reducing the greenhouse impact of peat. Thanks to their improved efficiency, new peat production methods were found to reduce the emissions of the production chain. VTT investigated the greenhouse impact of peatland utilisation from the land use point of view.

Compared with coal, utilisation of peatland in energy production will cause a lower climate impact within the 100-year horizon if the peatland is subsequently used for renewable energy production. The soil of cultivated peatland (cropland) and forestry-drained peatland is a source of emissions. According to VTT's research, these areas rather than natural peatland should be used for peat production.

This is particularly evident for cropland since the utilisation of such areas for energy production stops their considerable emissions. Furthermore, taking the utilisation of renewable energy produced in the after-treatment of peatland into account, the utilisation of forestry-drained peatland in energy production will cause a somewhat lower climate impact than coal within the 100-year horizon. Within a 300-year horizon, the greenhouse impact of peatland utilisation corresponds to 60–70 per cent of the impact of coal.

Furthermore, utilisation of cropland first for peat production and then either for afforestation or cultivation of reed canary grass causes a significantly lower climate impact than the utilisation of forestry-drained peatland or coal for energy. Cultivation of reed canary grass and afforestation are almost comparable options from the point of view of climate impact.

The calculations were based on the entire life cycle of peatland utilisation

The climate impact was assessed by radiative forcing. The entire life cycle of the peatland, from the production of fuel peat to after-treatment and the utilisation of the yield of after-treatment for energy production, was taken into account in the calculation. When calculating the climate impact, it is also important to consider the emissions and sinks of the peatland in its initial situation that will not be realised when the area is utilised for energy production.

New peat production method reduces emissions

New technological solutions play an important role in the mitigation of climate change. The new peat production method is considerably more efficient than the current milled peat method as it enables more accurate and efficient utilisation of peatland. After-treatment can also be initiated sooner than when using traditional methods.

Finland has considerable peat resources

Approximately one-third of Finland's land area consists of peatland; thus Finland has considerable peat resources. Peat accounts for some six per cent of our energy consumption. As an indigenous fuel, peat has an important impact on the self-sufficiency in energy production and as a source of employment in Finland. Peat also has excellent mixed fuel properties.

Slowly renewable biofuel

The major drawback associated with peat utilisation concerns greenhouse gas emissions. According to the updated classification instructions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), fuel peat is currently classified into a separate category of its own. In emissions calculation and trading, peat is considered equal to fossil fuels. In the Finnish National Climate Strategy, peat is classified as a slowly renewable biofuel.

The climate impact of peatland utilisation was also compared with the life-cycle impact of coal produced in Russia or Poland. The emissions caused by coal production were found to be quite similar in both countries. The climate impact of coal imported from Russia was estimated to be somewhat higher than that of coal imported from Poland. Because of the uncertainty of the initial data, the climate impact ranges were largely found to overlap.

The research investigating the climate impact of peatland utilisation for energy production from the land use point of view was funded by the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Forestry and Agriculture and the Ministry of the Environment. The research was based on the measurement data obtained from the research programme "The Greenhouse Impact of peat and Peatlands in Finland”, which was funded by the Ministries, and involved the participation of the Finnish Forest Research Institute (Metla) and the Universities of Helsinki, Kuopio and Joensuu, the Finnish Meteorological Institute and VTT.

 


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