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How can the use of wood as fuel contribute to making the supply of energy more secure in the Ukrainian Carpathians? Researchers at WSL are exploring this question – and relying on unusual methods.

The Ukraine suffers from regular bottlenecks in its energy supply, especially when gas supplies from Russia are interrupted. The country is therefore looking for ways to increase its self-sufficiency. One of these involves renewable energy. “A sensible way to supplement other renewable energy sources could be to use wood more,” says the WSL researcher, Astrid Björnsen, head of the project ‘Identifying Green Energy Options’ at WSL. Also involved in this project are: the Centre for Development and Environment of the University of Bern and the National Ukrainian Forestry University in Lviv (formerly Lemberg), among others.

In the project, the potential of energy wood in the Ukrainian Carpathians is being assessed. Huge areas of forest cover the mountainous area in the west of the country. One fifth of the timber harvested is already used as fuel wood. The researchers are investigating, on the basis of ecological, economic and social criteria, whether more could be used. “It is very important for us to involve local people so that our research does not overlook their needs,” says Astrid.

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That’s why the researchers launched a Best Practices Contest in the study region. Among other things, the researchers were looking for suggestions on how fuel wood could be used more efficiently. The first prize went to a school in the town of Boryslaw with 38,000 inhabitants. Their suggestion was to build a shelter so that the firewood for heating the school building could be kept dry and no longer had to be stored in the rain. As Astrid points out: “The proposal may seem banal, but it makes it clear what fundamental problems people are struggling with.”

Video as mouthpiece

After the Best Practices Contest was won in Boryslaw, further project measures were carried out there. The researchers adopted an unusual approach and invited six residents to shoot, under guidance, a so-called ‘participative video’ on the energy situation in their city. “The method enables us to bring the members of a community together and give them a voice,” Astrid says. The video was presented at a public event in Boryslaw in 2018 and at an international conference. “In addition to yielding relevant information about people’s energy use, valuable contacts between researchers and residents of the small town ensued.”
The project has already led to positive changes. The University of Lviv wants to ensure its courses have more practical relevance. Master students will therefore carry out case studies in Boryslaw and draft applications for municipal funding projects in the field of renewable energy. WSL is also committed to building up research capacities at the Ukrainian partner university and has invited Ukrainian researchers to Switzerland as guests.
As the project runs until 2020, no conclusive results on the potential of energy wood in the Ukrainian Carpathians are yet available. However, according to Astrid, it seems likely that more wastewood from wood processing could be used. Efficiency also plays a role: a lot of wood could be saved if it were dried sufficiently before burning, which is what the school in Boryslaw intends to do.
(Claudia Hoffmann, Diagonal 2/19)

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