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Research article2017Peer reviewed

Environmental effects of brushwood harvesting for bioenergy

Ebenhard, Torbjorn; Forsberg, Maria; Lind, Torgny; Nilsson, Daniel; Andersson, Rune; Emanuelsson, Urban; Eriksson, Lennart; Hultaker, Oscar; Wide, Maria Iwarsson; Stahl, Goran


Sweden aims to increase the proportion of renewable energy sources, ultimately to be able to phase out fossil fuels. To achieve this, new energy sources need to be explored. In this multi-disciplinary article, we examine the technical, economical, ecological and legal possibilities to commercially and sustainably harvest brushwood for bioenergy, while simultaneously gaining positive environmental effects, both for biological diversity, the cultural heritage, and the climate.The Swedish open landscape is becoming covered with secondary brushwood regrowth through natural succession, except where it is kept open. Brushwood is spreading along roads, railway lines, edge zones, in power line corridors, abandoned semi-natural grasslands, nature reserves, and in marginal land in urban areas. Such brushwood consists of saplings, bushes and young trees of a range of deciduous plant species, e.g. birch, aspen, alder and goat willow, sometimes mixed with conifers, often forming dense thickets.Such secondary brushwood regrowth could be systematically utilised as a new source of renewable bioenergy. Commercial brushwood harvesting in Sweden may contribute 26 PJ of energy annually, which may be a small but significant contribution, considering the favourable energy ratio (E-r = 28), indicating that large emission reductions can be achieved, if fossil fuels are replaced. Growing brushwood does not require fertilizers or pesticides, soil tillage or crop management, and it does not compete with any other potential land use. Many brushwood habitats are already being managed to clear brushwood, for other purposes, minimizing the added harvesting cost.Apart from providing bioenergy, it has also been suggested that brushwood harvesting would benefit biological diversity. A large number of nationally redlisted species are dependent on the active management of open habitats, including semi-natural grasslands, and man-made habitats such as road verges and power line corridors.Our literature review shows that brushwood harvesting could benefit both biological diversity and the cultural heritage, and contribute to the management of the open cultural landscape. There are however certain limitations. Brushwood harvesting would favour a certain set of species, including many redlisted, but it may also threaten another set of species, especially species associated with early successional stages of forest regeneration, as well as forest edge species, depending on how and where it is applied. Harvesting may be affected by legislation imposing limitations regarding habitats of particular importance for biodiversity. The environmental and legal constraints would probably reduce the profitability of brushwood harvesting in certain areas, as well as the annual production of bioenergy. (C) 2016 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Bioenergy; Brushwood harvesting; Sustainability; Biological diversity; Climate

Published in

Forest Ecology and Management
2017, Volume: 383, pages: 85-98 Publisher: ELSEVIER SCIENCE BV