Smart technology applications in the woody biomass supply chain: interview insights and potential in Japan

Abstract

In light of climate change, there is pressure worldwide to curb emissions via energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable energy. Woody biomass has a role in sustainable energy transitions, contributing to emissions reduction, economic development, and energy security as a dispatchable resource. This potential is recognized globally, but the woody biomass supply chain has faced technical and social challenges. Smart technologies are increasingly discussed in discourse on supply chain management, such as their potential to improve transparency and efficiency. Despite a variety of research related to woody biomass as well as smart technologies, little attention has been given to integrating the two perspectives. This study explores this intersection by highlighting smart technologies and mechanisms by which they may contribute to overcoming challenges in the woody biomass supply chain, exemplified by the case of Japan. Based on qualitative expert interviews, exploratory results suggest potential of smart technologies that would contribute to addressing both social and technical challenges of woody biomass in Japan. These challenges include transportation infrastructure, biomass quality management, business model integration (cascading), stakeholder relationship management, and local community revitalization and socioeconomic development. This contribution is based on various mechanisms such as improved transparency, information-sharing, accountability, automation, and value maximization. The results of this paper delineate a potential future development path that integrates smart technologies, woody biomass supply chains, and sustainability goals. This is an important further consideration for energy policy in academia, industry, as well as government.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the following interviewees for participation in this study (in alphabetical order): Boris Dudder (University of Copenhagen), Christoph Strasser (Bioenergy 2020 + GmbH), Daniel Buchner (DBFZ, Germany), Daniela Thrän (Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research), David Chiaramonti (University of Florence), Edward Sumoto (Tata Group), Eric van den Huevel (studio Gear Up), Hironao Matsubara (Institute of Sustainable Energy Policies, Japan), Hiroyuki Akiba (Japan Woody Biomass Association), Jonas Brändström (Vinnova), Kohei Izutsu (Sonraku Corporation), Rachel Emerson (Idaho National Laboratory), Shintaro Chono (SymEnergy), Sylvain Volpe (FPI Innovations), Takanobu Aikawa (Renewable Energy Institute, Japan), Takeo Kato (Japan Woody Biomass Association), Tetsuya Maruta (NRI), Victor G. Walker (Idaho National Laboratory), Volker Lenz (DBFZ, Germany), Yoshiki Yamagata (National Institute for Environmental Studies, Japan).

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Appendices

Appendices

Appendix 1

Interview outline

  1. (1)

    What are some technical challenges you have seen for woody biomass?

    1. (A)

      How can they be managed?

  2. (2)

    What are some social challenges you have seen for woody biomass?

    1. (A)

      How can they be managed?

  3. (3)

    How do you think smart technologies and ICT (information and communication technology) can contribute to woody biomass systems?

  4. (4)

    Below is a list of challenges in the woody biomass supply chain. For each of the challenges, please discuss: How do you think smart technologies can contribute?

    1. (A)

      Building stakeholder respect, relationships and trust.

    2. (B)

      Biomass quality control (moisture content, size, etc.).

    3. (C)

      Business model integration for higher value creation.

    4. (D)

      Transportation infrastructure from forest.

    5. (E)

      Local community revitalization and socioeconomic development.

Appendix 2

See Table 2.

Table 2 Word frequency in interview responses for each of the five woody biomass supply chain challenges in Japan

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Ahl, A., Goto, M. & Yarime, M. Smart technology applications in the woody biomass supply chain: interview insights and potential in Japan. Sustain Sci 15, 1531–1553 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-019-00728-2

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Keywords

  • Smart technology
  • Woody biomass
  • Supply chain
  • Decentralized energy
  • Bioenergy
  • Japan