Wood fuels in energy generation in Finland

Wood-based fuels are the main source of renewable energy in Finland

In Finland bioenergy has a key role in the production of renewable energy. Bioenergy production is largely integrated into forestry and forest industry. 

In recent years energy derived from wood fuels has accounted for around one fourth of Finland’s total energy consumption. Major share of wood fuels are derived from the by-products of the forest industry, including  black liquor derived from the pulp-making process and bark, sawdust and other industrial wood residues. Also logging residues or other low value biomass from silvicultural and harvesting operations are used for energy generation. 

According to preliminary data of Statistics Finland, in 2017 the total consumption of wood fuels was 100 terawatt-hours (TWh). Wood fuels represented the most important energy source in Finland, covering 27% of the total energy consumption.

Energy is produced from forest industry black liquor and by-products

Modern paper and pulp factories and sawmills operate with integrated approach using waste liquors and residues such as black liquor, bark, sawdust and process waste and recycled wood, for the production of heat and power or biofuels and bioliquids. As a result of the positive trend in the forest industries, the consumption of roundwood in Finland is higher than before, meaning that more by-products are also available for energy production. In recent years, the growth in the consumption of wood fuels in Finland has been based especially on an increase in burning forest industry by-products and wood residues.

In 2017, of the total consumption of wood fuels in Finland (100 TWh), the burning of black liquor made up 43 terawatt-hours. Solid wood fuels used at power and heating plants accounted for 38 terawatt-hours, the small-scale combustion of wood comprised 17 terawatt-hours and other wood fuels covered 2 terawatt-hours. Energy produced from from different wood fuels made up 74 percent of total renewable energy in 2017.

Power and heat is generated from bark, sawdust and logging residues

Solid wood fuels are an important source for heat and power generation in Finland. According to statistics, in 2017 heating and power plants consumed nearly 20 million solid cubic metres (38 terawatt-hours) of solid wood fuels. In 2017, the volume of various by-products was 11.7 million cubic metres. The main industrial by-product was bark, accounting nearly for two thirds (7,7 miilion m3) and the rest were sawdusts (2.8 million m3) and industrial chips (1.2 million m3). Amount of bark, sawdust and industrial chips is related to consumption of roundwood in the forest industry.

Forest chips are also a remarkable source of energy in Finland. The branches, crowns and stumps of harvested trees cannot be used by industry to produce timber goods or pulp and paper but they can be chipped to make wood-chip fuels that can then be used to generate energy. The use of forest chips has almost eightfolded since 2000. In recent years the amount has remained practically unchanged. In 2017, 7.8 million cubic metres of forest chips were used to generate heat and power. Most of this volume (7.2 million m3) was used in heating and power plants, but forest chips are also burned in small-scale housing (0,7 million m3).

The main fraction of the forest chips in Finland comes from the tending of young stands. The share of these small-sized trees as raw material for forest chips at heating and power plants is already half of the forest chips. In 2017, use of small-sized trees was 4.0 million cubic metres. Use of logging residues was 2.3 million cubic metres. Use of stumps has been decreasing in past years and was 0.5 million cubic metres in 2017. The use of large-sized timber, which usually rotten timber, was 0.4 million cubic metres.

In addition, the small-scale use of wood for heating in residential houses, summer cottages and farms is also a significant part of the bioenergy mix.

40 percent of Finnish end-energy consumption comes from renewable sources

Wood fuels have a crucial role also in the future in  targets and means for increasing the share of renewable energy  in Finland. The latest Energy and Climate Strategy was adopted in November 2016. Target is to increase the use of renewable energy so that during the 2020s its share rises to more than 50 per cent.  

In 2017 renewable energy represented 36% of gross energy consumption in Finland. In the EU the targets for renewable energy are established in relation to energy end-consumption, and in 2017 share of renewables was already as high as 40% of end-energy consumption.

Related links
Wood in energy generation 2017 (Natural resources institute Finland)
Graphs on forest-based energy (Finnish forest association)
Renewable energy sources in Finland 1970-2016 (Statistics Finland)
Energy supply and consumption in Finland (Statistics Finland)
National Energy and Climate strategy for 2030

Further information

Kaisa Pirkola, Ministerial Adviser 
MMM, Luonnonvaraosasto, Metsä- ja bioenergiayksikkö 0295162350