Forest biomass acts as a carbon store and is thus important for mitigating climate change. It is therefore essential to protect this biomass from forest fires, which cause significant CO2 emissions and damage both the environment and property. Forest fire risks can be reduced by managing the amount of ground-level waste biomass in forest areas. Cleared ground-level biomass can be used as a CO2-neutral fuel when burnt in controlled conditions. Such activity provides beneficial opportunities for rural economic development.
The main objective of teh BIOENERGY & FIRE PREV. project was to improve Enguera’s capacity to protect its forest resource from fire and demonstrate new rural employment opportunities that provide environmental benefits. It planned to develop new forest management tools and approaches to minimising fire risks. The potential of biomass as a source of renewal energy and rural employment would also be tested and evaluated.
An inventory of biomass for bio-energy uses would be produced based on representative forests within the project site. This inventory would include such aspects as the biomass’s calorific value and its potential for generating electricity and promoting economic development in rural areas.
Furthermore, the project aimed to prepare a new strategy document for addressing sustainable forest management and renewable energy production using biomass generated from forest fire prevention measures. This strategy would be in line with the EC’s Action Plan on Biomass and the EU Forest Action Plan.
The BIOENERGY & FIRE PREV. project carried out inventories and field work to obtain a basic cartography of the target area. Using LIDAR data, the project was able to highlight the limitations of the third National Forest Inventory, which did not accurately represent conditions in the project sites. The project’s approach demonstrated that the process of drawing up of forest management plans can be improved, reducing time and resources.
The management of forests currently considers the width of the trees and the volume of timber as a means of maximising the economic value of the forested area, but the project showed the environmental benefit of cutting trees according to their age and their growth rate over the past 10 years. Collecting forest biomass and calculating its calorific value, the project team demonstrated that this new approach produces a similar yield for chipping and pellets small industries, except for the ash content.
The project also analysed the demand for biomass and biofuels in the area, and, based on this analysis and its environmental assessments, drafted forest management plans. The overall result further demonstrates the potential for using bioenergy and improving fire prevention. The extraction of biomass is estimated to have decreased the fire risk by 60%.
Its actions are transferrable to other forested areas. In this regard, the project can be considered to have contributed to European Commission Communications and Green Papers on biomass, forest strategy and action plan, renewable energy and energy efficiency. The project also proposed an amendment to an initiative of the Committee of the Regions of the European Union concerning the prohibition of the use of biomass in protected areas. The proposal was accepted.
Finally, the beneficiaries calculate that the forest management adopted by the project created one direct job for every 250 ha of forest, increasing to 75 jobs for the total land managed. The project can also be linked to jobs created in facilities that process the biomass.