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The role of biomass in Switzerland’s future energy system


SCCER-BIOSWEET aims to increase the energetic use of biomass in Switzerland. WSL determines resource potentials, examines availabilities and future developments of different biomass categories.


Background and overall context

Within the context of the energy transition the Swiss government foresees a massive increase in the share of renewable energy (e.g. sun, wind, water, biomass, geothermic…). The Swiss Competence Centers for Energy Research (SCCER), funded by the Swiss Innovation Agency (Innosuisse), seek solutions to the technical, social and political challenges posed by the Energy Transition. The SCCER BIOSWEET (Biomass for Swiss Energy Future) aims to increase the contribution of biomass to Switzerland's energy supply (Phase 1: 2014-2016; Phase 2: 2017-2020). The energetic use of biomass has many advantages: biomass is a renewable resource which is sometimes even produced as waste or by-product. It can be transformed into several forms of energy: heat, electricity, biogas or liquid fuels. Compared to other renewable energies, biomass is mostly storable and can therefore be used to offset fluctuating energy production from wind and sun. Within this context, the question of an optimal use of biomass arises. To answer this question, it is necessary to analyze the resources in terms of their availability and use.

At WSL energy wood (mainly from forests) has been an important research topic for many years. Recently other renewables have also been taken into account (e.g. the project “Renewable Energies Aargau”). Within the SCCER BIOSWEET the WSL started investigating all relevant bioresources (e.g. manure, organic wastes). Resources potentials at various levels and scenarios are used to examine present and possible future availability. The spatial distribution and socio-economic components are also taken in consideration.


SCCER BIOSWEET, Phase 1 (2014-2016)

During the SCCER BIOSWEET phase 1 we analysed the potential of domestic biomass resources for energy in Switzerland taking into account their spatial distribution (Fig. 1).

Both woody and non-woody types of biomass were investigated using methodically comparable approaches. For all these ten categories of biomass, the current theoretical potential, sustainable potential, already used potential and additional potential were determined. The assessment is also particularily supported by analysing the potential spatial distribution. According to our calculations, the total theoretical potential of Swiss biomass is 209 PJ primary energy per year (Fig. 2), of which about half stems from forest wood (108 PJ) and a quarter from manure (49 PJ). The main constraints on the sustainable availability of biomass for producing energy are ecological and economic-technical restrictions. If these are taken into consideration, the sustainable theoretical potential for producing energy per year would be roughly halved (97 PJ). All details can be found in our extensive report  (+online Table).

This work was made possible by the unique Swiss-wide research infrastructure, as we collaborated with several research partners within the SCCERs and outside and non-academic partners. Also, we contributed to an assessment of the total potentials and costs for electricity generation from domestic biomass resources in Switzerland (within the frame of a project of PSI and the Swiss Federal Office of Energy SFOE).


Objectives, SCCER BIOSWEET, Phase 2 (2017-2020)

The general objective is to ensure full deployment of sustainable biomass to increase Switzerland’s energy security and decrease its greenhouse gas emissions. The scope of our study is to provide a holistic assessment to understand the role of biomass in the energy transition. In order to facilitate the analyses and the transfer of the results into practice, sub-regions will be defined according to the specific data situation per biomass type, up to the municipality level. The evolution of the different biomasses up to two time horizons (2035, 2050) will be evaluated to assess the future biomass availability (Fig 2).

In addition, we will be able to identify energy hotspots and socio-economic clusters at the municipality level in collaboration with the SCCER-SoE / RIGOROuS). The analysis of biomass supply chains will make the link between biomass resources, conversion processes and energy services (including calculation of costs, GHG emissions, impact of replacement of fossil fuels, nutrient cycle and power density). Through case studies, we will assess the regional added value and obstacles of the biomass use for the energy transition, and finally elaborate best-practices recommendations.



To develop a more sustainable future, Switzerland needs a strong scientific bases for new policies and a close collaboration between science and practice. We have regular exchange with the association “Biomasse Suisse” which promotes the utilization of biomass for energy. We also participate to applied subprojects to promote implementation (interuniversity concept study for “Manure-to-Electricity” at Small-scale Farms, ZHAW-HYDROFIB which is a sustainable technology for biomethane from fiber-rich biomass). Our results are also complementary to the European study S2Biom Project and its toolset.


The main results of the project are the reliable systematic and integral assessment of the domestic bioenergy system. Both serve as a scientific base for decision making concerning the optimal usage of Swiss biomass for energy purposes in Switzerland, thereby facilitating the implementation of the Energy Strategy 2050. Additionally, our study will reveal regional opportunities and contribute to reduce costs and increase efficiency, based on local biomass availability, existing bio-energy conversion sites, competition, trade-offs and synergies.