In today’s global marketplace, even before the first good or service is produced for export, a significant amount of relationship building and information sharing among trading partners occurs. Formulating relationships and defining cooperation agreements are the first step on the path to global trade. This applies to several industries, but international cooperation is a critical element for the bioenergy sector. 

During an international trade mission last summer, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Sweden on bioenergy cooperation. Last March, Sweden was able to tout that nearly half its total energy use was supplied by renewable resources, and nearly one-third was from bioenergy alone. Minnesota has similar renewable energy resources to Sweden, especially forestry and agricultural resources. It was a smart decision by the Dayton administration to formalize a cooperation agreement with a global leader in bioenergy development.

Bioenergy encompasses many feedstocks, technologies and opportunities.  The Minnesota/Sweden cooperation agreement has been specifically targeted to help ensure success. When a Swedish delegation visited Minnesota last fall, it was determined that a near-term focus area for cooperation should be biogas (biomass thermal was another focus area). As a strong advocate and proponent of biogas energy systems, I am excited to see focus on the underutilized biogas resource.

Sweden is the world leader in the use of biogas for transportation fuel. Sweden views its domestic biogas resource as the best way to decrease fossil fuel use in the transport sector. According to the Swedish Gas Association, Sweden produced 1.6 terawatt-hours of biogas from approximately 240 production facilities in 2012. More than 50 percent of the biogas produced was used as vehicle fuel. The remaining portion was utilized primarily for heat and for electricity generation. Sweden’s total potential for biogas production remains more than 10 times greater than what is currently produced. So even in Sweden, where biogas is already a more established resource, there is a significant amount of untapped potential.

Biogas is a significant player in a diversified energy portfolio in Sweden. Since biogas is a key strategy for reducing fossil fuel use in the transportation sector, the number of biogas-fueled buses, trains, taxis and passenger vehicles in operation is growing throughout Sweden. A robust effort to build out alternative fuel infrastructure accompanies the increased use of biogas. In addition to biogas, the Swedes are also developing additional production capacity and utilization of liquid renewable fuels like ethanol and biodiesel.

Another element of Sweden’s alternative fuel strategy is to blend conventional natural gas with its domestic biogas resource. Biogas is still the majority share of the finished fuel blend. According to the U.S. DOE Alternative Fuels Data Center, over 50 percent of the gas used to fuel Sweden’s 11,500 gas vehicles consists of biogas. Much of Sweden’s renewable energy and alternative fuel development success can be attributed to policies that aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide financial incentives, which make it easier for consumers to transition from fossil fuels to cleaner alternatives. Although some of Sweden’s carbon policies might be a difficult sell politically in the U.S., there are many other strategies that could be achievable in the country.

Sweden and the U.S. can learn from one another as we work to expand the production and utilization of our biogas resources. This international spirit of cooperation led to the development of a sustainable transportation seminar that took place May 19 at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, Minn. The seminar, which was hosted by the Swedish Embassy with opening remarks from Swedish Ambassador Björn Lyrvall, highlighted the successful biogas transportation models currently utilized in Sweden. Strategies were shared by Swedish and Minnesota partners about how we could work cooperatively to export and import the most successful models to further develop our biogas resources. In addition to the seminar, individual meetings took place between the Swedish delegation members and key Minnesota agencies and companies to further discuss how we could formalize cooperation agreements for biogas resource development. It was the first step in what I hope will lead to greater biogas deployment in Minnesota.

*This post first appeared in Biomass Magazine*

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