Bioenergy conference: Innovation in fossil-free energy production

Linnea Bengtsson (from left), Chet Kolodziej, Mark Podemski, Sue Mroz, Bob Vogl and Sonia Vogl attend the Fourth International Bioenergy Conference in Lidkoping, Sweden. (Photo provided)

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

We, along with Winnebago County Director of Economic Development Sue Mroz, Freedom Field Manager Chet Kolodziej and Rockford Area Economic Development Council (RAEDC) Vice President for Development Brad Podemski, were fortunate to be part of the Rockford delegation to the Fourth International Bioenergy Conference in Lidkoping, Sweden.

While the role of both the county and RAEDC is to bring businesses to the area, we hope to confirm Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen’s (R) faith in us by bringing back ideas that can help Freedom Field and the Rockford area.

The conference included a variety of ideas and experiences in a surprisingly short time. Presentations by experts in their fields were enhanced by field trips to observe firsthand Swedish innovations in fossil-free energy production.

Swedes take sustainability seriously. More than 31 percent of their energy is from biofuels; 46.3 percent is from renewable energy. One-third of Swedish cars are “environmentally friendly.”

In 2008, a tax credit for green cars was introduced. In Sweden, polluters pay: “The bad guys pay the good guys.” They feel that grants only overbridge the “valley of death”; they are not expected to last forever.

Few direct subsidies exist. In 1990, a carbon tax was placed on fossil fuels. Sweden was accused of being the only country in the world killing jobs because of pollution. But making fossil fuels more expensive opened the way for renewables.

To the questions: Will we sacrifice? Go back to the 18th century with a mule? Experience starvation and misery? Swedes respond that they have doubled the use of energy since 1990. One TW of biomass in Sweden creates 300 new jobs, primarily in rural areas and small municipalities.

The gross domestic product has increased 40 percent. The increase in the cost of some energy means that less of it will be used. Local energy sources means more of the money spent on it remains in the local economy. The result is that half of the money spent on energy is kept by the local area and its citizens.

Lidkoping itself, “the sustainable city,” has green, sustainable guidelines. It uses district heating for its buildings, including homes. Rather than being wasted, trash is burned to produce heat and electricity. Lidkoping does not produce enough trash to supply all of its heating needs, so more is purchased from Norway. Since Norway has its own source of non-fossil fuel energy — hydropower — the trade is mutually beneficial. We observed the massive project that includes separating large noncombustible items from combustible, chopping the remaining fuels and burning them.

Pellets are used in a smaller boiler to produce heat for an elementary school and retirement home.

Fossil energy is replaced by compressed biomethane to fuel cars, also a municipal project. Biomethane production also takes place on farms.

New buildings follow passivhaus standards. Old buildings are renovated to become energy efficient.

Swedes feel all of the side effects of their new energy program are positive. The GDP and jobs are up; money remains local; emission levels are lower; and the economy is more stable in an economic crisis. In summary, one speaker told us that if the U.S. were like Sweden, we would have 25 million new jobs.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail

From the Oct. 5-11, 2011, issue

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