The frequency and severity of forest fires in Europe is predicted to increase as climate patterns continue to change. Forest fires can have a significant negative impact, causing great damage to the environment and large volumes of atmospheric pollution, including significant emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Forest fires are estimated to account for around 20% of global GHG emissions, emitting some 8 200 Tg of CO2 and consuming around 5 130 Tg of biomass every year. In Mediterranean countries, especially Spain, forest fires represent a significant environmental and economic problem. According to the Spanish Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Ministry for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge, the average surface area affected by forest fires in the period 2002-2012 was 114 000 ha per year. In 2012, the figure was 210 000 ha. Figures indicate that around two thirds of the area affected by fires was scrubland (containing few trees), which have a high potential as a source of biofuel.
The LIFE ENERBIOSCRUB project aimed to reduce forest fire risks by removing flammable scrub biomass in a sustainable manner and converting it to solid biofuel. New methods would be developed for harvesting and processing the biofuel. Findings from four pilot sites in Castilla-Leon and Galicia would be compared to help identify optimal approaches for reducing forest fire risks. Conclusions would be widely disseminated in order to encourage replication of the good practice techniques.
Specific objectives included:
The LIFE ENERBIOSCRUB project harvested fresh biomass in all the selected plots weighing a total of 1 629 tonnes, less than the 2 000 tonnes foreseen, from around 137 hectares. This biomass was assessed and combustion tests performed. The project also collected data at the sites for an environmental and a socio-economic impact assessment.
It demonstrated that the use of shrub biomass helps reduce dependency on fossil fuels in line with the EU Directive on Energy Efficiency. It moreover demonstrated a cost-effective approach to reducing the amount of combustible matter available in shrub land and therefore the risk of forest fires. The project approach also represents a viable means of reinvigorating rural populations and activities.
The project calculated that 1 500 tonnes of biomass yields emissions of around 0.0117 kgCO2 per kWh, a saving of around 96% on light fuel oil. Moreover, scrubland has a high potential as a source of biofuel in Spain. Around 3.75 million tonnes of biomass could be harvested annually from just 2% of Spain?s scrubland (375 000 ha). This could substitute over 1.5 million tonnes of fossil fuel per year, reducing GHG emissions by 4.6 million tonnes of CO2, as well as having a positive economic impact.
However, increasing the efficiency of the methodology remains a challenge. The beneficiaries must upgrade the harvesting machinery and develop a way of marketing the biofuels at a reasonable cost. They must also find sufficiently boilers that allow this type of biofuel to be used in local residences.
Last but not least, the demonstrative value of the project is high given that most of the actions were carried out on full scale involving all stakeholders.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report (see "Read more" section).