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Biogas – renewable energy at its best

Author Anne Kujanpää
Posted on

The popularity of biogas as a form of renewable energy has increased at a great pace in Finland during the last decade. Pioneering small-scale innova­tions have over time grown into industrial operations and the demand for biogas as a replace­ment for fossil fuels has created a good basis for the emergence of new biogas operators. In the last few years, the digestate produced by biogas plants has started to find its place as a recycled nutrient product that can be used as a replacement for industrially manufactured fertilizers.

Honestly “bio”

When biogas is mentioned, people almost always have a preconceived idea about it. If nothing else, the prefix ‘bio’ is in one way or another connect­ed to environmental friendliness and a subject that will in the future have a strong position when we move on to more sustainable energy solutions. Biogas might otherwise be a foreign concept to the uninitiated, but the things mentioned above are already a solid starting point, since biogas is truly environmentally friendly bioener­gy. In order to promote conservation of the environment and standardize environmental license policies within the EU, the planning of larger biogas plants must also take into account the BAT (Best Available Techniques) reference document defined for waste treatment. The best biogas plant pro­cesses, whether big or small, enable the production of environmentally friendly and sustainably produced local energy, as well as soil conditioner and recycled nutrients suitable for even the needs of organic production. When material that has gone through the digestion process is used as it is in fields or as processed into commercial fertilizer products, the product can safely be called ecological.

Raw materials appropriate for a biogas plant i.e. feed is created huge amounts in both nature and the soci­ety’s operations. Household bio-waste, sludge from sewage treatment plants, food industry by-products, agriculture manure and many other organic ma­terials can be used as feed. In addition to digestion plants, biogas can be collected from landfills where biogas is formed in the depths of old landfill banks. In Finland, landfills gases are largely utilized, but elsewhere in the world landfill banks still contain a lot of energy production potential.

 

Biogas’ role as a replacement for fossil fuels

At the moment, biogas is widely utilized in its gaseous form, either as crude gas with a methane content of about 60% or after being processed into biomethane with a methane content of about 98%. Lately, the liquifying of biogas has also gained a foothold in Finland, which is great. When we talk about just the traffic use of biogas, or more accurately biomethane, both gaseous and liquified forms have their users. In traffic, com­pressed biomethane (CBG) is mainly used by passenger cars and, for exam­ple, refuse trucks and buses. Liquified biomethane (LBG) on the other hand is better suited to powerful heavy vehicles and, on an even larger scale, marine traffic. When biomethane is liquified, larger amounts of it can be fit in a vehicle’s fuel tank, which enables longer drives between refueling. Heavy vehicles using liquified biomethane are already used to some degree in road transport and once the fueling network of liquified methane has been expanded, we can certainly expect traffic contractors to move on from using fossil fuels. There already is a reasonable amount of refueling stations for compressed biomethane in Finland, excluding the eastern­most and northernmost parts of the country. Since the biogas market is still evolving, it must be said that natural gas still has its own role in traffic use.

Biogas and biomethane developed from it have, as a form of renewable energy, been well-received by indus­try. Industry aims for carbon neutrality and biogas can support this goal very well. Many industrial operators have replaced fossil fuels with renewable energy, with one option being switch­ing to biogas. Having an industrial plant located within a reasonable distance from a biogas plant can at best create excellent solutions for the needs of both plants. The industrial plant can supply by-products to be used as raw material at the biogas plant and the biogas plant can supply gas or electricity and heat produced from gas for industrial needs. There­fore, an industrial plant does not need to be located close to a gas network in order to use biogas. There already are some off-grid biogas plants of indus­trial size that operate outside of gas distribution networks, and more are being planned. Cooperation between industry and biogas plants enables keeping the transport distances to areas outside the gas network reason­able. Additionally, utilization of biogas supports the implementation of sec­tor integration. When planning biogas plant investments, things such as end users of gas and their location and the availability of the plant’s raw materials required to produce some additional value for the operations of the farm. There are even household-specific biogas production devices in the world, but these devices are more likely to inspire a new hobby related to the production of renewable energy than actual financial benefits.

Even though the traffic use of biomethane will likely in the future be largely focused on heavy equipment, due to the high volume of fuel the equipment uses, passenger car traffic should not be forgotten. Unfortunate­ly, the decision-makers in Europe have sent slightly concerning signals to car manufacturers in relation to emission standards, and the passenger cars using biomethane as their fuel are not at the top of the manufacturers’ list of priorities. From the manufacturers’ viewpoint this is understandable, since the vehicles manufactured must meet are also considered carefully. Elomatic has been part of several biogas plant projects in tasks such as producing feasibility surveys and planning the plant process. Elomatic’s wide-ranging competence is visible in the charting of the optimal location for the plant project, estimating of investment costs and in the implementation stage of the project.

Finland has considerably more production potential of biogas than is currently being utilized. Realizing that potential has posed a challenge for biogas experts for a long time and a huge amount of work has been done for it. The fact is that the operations of a biogas plant are business opera­tions which are affected by political decisions and assistance forms and incentives that are build around the plant projects. Sure, on a smaller scale biogas can be produced for non-com­mercial use, for example, on a farm it can used to produce heat and/or electricity and to replace fossil fuels. But even in these cases the plant is strict emission standards. However, we still hope that the decision-makers will rule that when it comes to emissions, the emissions created throughout a vehicle’s entire lifecycle would be con­sidered, not just the emissions created during use. In this way, the gas-fueled passenger cars could be kept on the market to create low-emission traffic. Here it is good to specify that the term ‘gas-fueled vehicles’ refers to gas-fueled vehicles equipped with a combustion engine, not vehicles that use hydrogen as their energy source

Agriculture holds great potential for biogas production

On a European scale, Finland is still a small operator in the biogas indus­try, although there has been some growth. Growth potential can still be detected in the production of biogas, and the feed produced by agriculture in particular has a huge amount of potential. Animal manure and, for ex­ample, previous year’s fodder contain energy and utilizing it should still be enhanced. Digesting the side streams of agriculture creates locally produced, renewable energy at its best. At the same time, methane, which would be released into the air as greenhouse gas as a result of spreading manure on farms, can be now collected. Another current focus point for development efforts is the further processing of the digestate produced by biogas plants. Thanks to further processing solutions, biogas plant operations could be made more profitable and the ben­eficiaries would include the environ­ment and, of course, users of the final products. With processing, different nutrient products can be separated from the digestate and in this way, the nutrients can be focused on the areas where they are needed the most. In places where animal manure is creat­ed on a large scale, the soil’s nutrient level is usually such that nutrients can be transported to other areas that have less nutrients. Performing further processing at a plant can decrease the storage and transport amounts of final products, which will further improve operations’ profitability and the envi­ronmental load caused by transport. In the case of a biogas plant, the finan­cially most sensible options must be considered, and pondering this often produces new and more sustainable innovations.

Biogas has its place in the future

The operations of biogas plants of the future will likely be a little dif­ferent from those of today. At the moment, there are several projects ongoing around the topic of how the operations of biogas plants could be enhanced and what kinds of new components could be created around the operations. In addition to the fur­ther processing of the final products produced by biogas plants, the focus could also be directed at developing the collection of carbon dioxide and possibly producing hydrogen from biogas. Producing hydrogen from renewable raw materials is an inter­esting addition to energy production but here, too, new innovations are required in order to make the pro­duction as sensible as possible. Will larger-scale production be profitable with just crude gas or will it absolutely require processing biogas into biome­thane? That remains to be seen. There is so much research being done that this matter will advance at a great pace in the next few years and biogas plant operators will likely have a key position in the development.

This year, we can also expect a decision on making biogas part of the national distribution obligation, which is hoped to promote the use of biogas as transport fuel. In April 2021, the Finnish Government submitted a government bill concerning the promotion of the traffic use of biofuels to Parliament. The implementation of this bill is currently expected. This will also make biogas taxable, despite which the benefits are still estimated to be adequate enough to increase traffic demand for biogas. Sustaina­bly produced biogas is a very good part of energy production when the discussion is about decreasing carbon dioxide emissions in the near future. Biogas is an excellent form of energy for security of supply as well, be­cause it can be produced locally from renewable raw materials and, there­fore, it can be used to replace energy imported from abroad.

Finally, it is good to remember the little fact that the effort of us all is needed in the sorting of bio-waste in particular so that the organic waste of households is not incinerated with mixed waste. Organic waste has poor value when incinerated, but it is an excellent raw material for a biogas plant’s processes. In Finland, the sorting of bio-waste is largely in order, but as long as material suitable for di­gestion process still ends up in mixed waste, there is room for improvement. Biogas will have its own foothold in the future and Elomatic wants to participate in the building of a cleaner future and help its clients implement carbon-neutral energy solutions

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Anne Kujanpää

Project Manager
(B.Sc. Automation technology)

Anne has over 15 years of experience in project work. She has been working mainly on biogas and heat & power plant projects and therefore energy industry and environmental technology are very close to her heart. Anne also has experience in environmental permit application processes. Working as a designer as well as a project manager has learned plenty of valuable things related to project work. Annejoined Tampere Energy Consulting team in March 2021 as a project manager and process specialist.

Intelligent Engineering

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Vaasan Sähkö has commissioned Elomatic to design and project manage a future heat pump plant

Kirjoittanut By Elomatic Oy

Vaasan Sähkö will have a plant built at the Pått wastewater treatment plant to recover waste heat from treated wastewater. The heat will be fed into the district heating network, where it will be sufficient...

Read more » Lue lisää »
Top Engineer

Financing the Green Transition

Author Heidi Käkelä
Posted on

The energy sector must commit to acting in concrete ways against climate change, structural inequality and social alienation if they hope to be financed through a growing number of ESG funds. This will take some time, a bit of effort and more soul-searching than we are perhaps used to.

 

To borrow a thought from the Lebanese-American poet Khalil Gibran, the Green Transition is a “responsibility, not an opportunity.” Although we have known since the late 70’s and the early 80’s that cata­strophic climate change is a possible scenario, committed and significant change has been slow to materialize within the energy sector. The reasons are many: the world is developing at varying paces, energy chains are com­plex and interlocking entities and the capital costs of new technology must not outweigh the rate of reasonable return. Even realpolitik dictates that not all alternative means of generation are viable.

Nevertheless, the consequences of human inaction are already starting to show, and we are facing a world of decreasing wellbeing, unrest and urgency that demands we act. The energy sector has a pivotal role to play in this, as the lion’s share of the world’s emissions are produced through its actions. With the European Green Deal, the legal codification of the EU’s climate goals and the sharp devel­opments in the Emissions Trading System, Finland’s energy sector is currently under increasing pressure to reform. Simultaneously, a persistent investment gap has been identified in our industrial sector, which poses the question: how should energy compa­nies finance the Green Transition?

The New Normal

No matter what humankind’s relatively short memory would have us believe, global shocks are the norm rather than the exception. In fact, they are so commonplace that adapting to them often gains the moniker “the new normal”, which refers to the concep­tualization of a time of blissful igno­rance in the before and a time of slow reconstruction in the after. At the mo­ment of writing, in the spring of 2021, it is hardly difficult to envisage the newest “normals” that we have come to know. With its acuteness, the Novel Coronavirus pandemic has served both to overshadow and to bring into stark contrast many of the problems that faced global societies far prior to its arrival. These include not only envi­ronmental concerns but also growing economic inequality digital and social alienation, reckless populism and the acceleration of destabilizing conspir­acy theories. It is clear that the World is becoming more splintered in a time of increased need for cooperation and unity, which makes the case for adaptation and positive action all the more important.

Conscious Capitalism

The growing adoption of corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies is one of the better types of new normality to come from the increasing global awareness enabled through digital interaction. It is no longer possi­ble for successful businesses to ignore the world around them and the best will attempt to get ahead of the curve of conscious action. For Finnish energy companies this refers particu­larly to their relationship with national and international climate targets, their relations with an expanding set of active stakeholders and demands for corporate transparency; these issues converge in the acronym “ESG”, which is bank-terminology for environmen­tal, social and governance criteria.

Financial institutions use ESG criteria as a means of guiding so­cially responsible investment, which includes a large number of financial instruments, such as equities, bonds and loans. Historically, ESG criteria have informed divestment rather than investment, where certain investors and institutions have been unwilling to invest in problematic businesses, such as the fossil fuel in­dustry or tobacco companies. Today, ESG investing takes an active role in channeling funding towards sustaina­ble and green activities in a financial­ly robust way. ESG is also a growing force in global markets, where sustainable and green investment funds outperformed many forecasts even throughout the stormy waters of 2020.

From a business perspective, attracting ESG investment is funda­mentally a form of risk management, as it signals good corporate citizen­ship beyond the traditional balance sheet. Sustainable businesses are at the forefront of recognizing their im­pacts in a broader context, be it envi­ronmental, social or political, and they are thus better protected from market shocks. For an energy company, ESG criteria might be tied to airborne emis­sions, but also to water management, noise and light pollution, HSE, equi­table recruitment and remuneration policies, and to ethical supply chains. None of these issues are a surprise to a responsible actor in the Finnish energy sector; what’s new is how they can affect its access to financing.

Beyond ESG investment through equities, which is currently the most prominent, there exists a growing market in green bonds and loans. Green bonds are strongly character­ized by their bond frameworks, which clearly state the conditions under which the bond has been established and the rules by which its proceeds may be disbursed. Bond frameworks are developed to be compliant with a number of internationally established codes of conduct, such as the UN Prin­ciples of Responsible Investment, the Equator Principles or the aptly named Green Bond Principles. In the future, green bonds can also be developed according to the EU’s Green Bond Standard, which will automatically en­sure that they are eligible for “green” status within the Union.

This is no mean feat, since with the anticipated adoption of the EU’s Green Deal and especially its technical specification, the Taxonomy, energy companies will be subjected to new expectations and limitations. These expectations concern especially how projects are defined as envi­ronmentally friendly. Another option for energy companies is to take out green loans from banks that have already established green bonds in advance. Projects that are nominated for these loans go through an in-bank approval process, where their envi­ronmental credentials are investigated by sustainability analysts and, if they are found compliant with the green bond framework, awarded with green financing. Often, this green financing is also significantly more affordable than its regular counterparts, thanks to its managed risk.

Green Transition compliant engineering

The Green Transition is an all-encom­passing endeavor; it runs through every part of Finnish society, and coming to grips with it is sometimes a daunting task. Changes are suggested, mandated and adopted on multiple levels simultaneously. On one day, we might struggle to rise to meet the EU’s demands, the second we engage with local environmental organizations and obligations, and on the third we must maintain and improve the company’s own generation capacity.

ESG investment offers an alterna­tive for a structured approach to trans­forming regular business into green business, but attracting it requires a broader overhaul of styles of think­ing about engineering. ESG criteria are best met through the readiness, willingness and ability to see beyond the crisis and to commit to effective action to mitigate it. There are no easy answers for how to meet these chal­lenges, but there are some questions we might start with.

Transparency makes responsibility easier

Do you know what you already know? – The basis of ESG finance is knowledge and the key to it is communication. Energy companies generate infor­mation in droves – daily, monthly, yearly. Some of this knowledge is gathered and made public through corporate reports, other parts inform the company’s function and advise its plans for the future. All of it can potentially be used to communicate responsible business practices and good commitments, which have a signaling effect on the surrounding society. The increase in data-led and data-driven business began as early as the 1990s, but it is becoming main­stream only now as more companies are making the slow shift to relying more strongly on the interpretive and interdisciplinary field of data science. One of the many benefits of making use of data streams is increased trust in corporate practices. This translates to better access to both public and private funding, which can potentially make up for some of the perceived failings of the Finnish economy and boost investment into lucrative and sustainable solutions.

Are you trying to do this alone? – The pandemic has taught us that our societies are far more vulnerable than we ever expected. A lesson business might take here from disaster relief and reconstruction is that although centralized large actors are never adept enough to best meet local needs, no one is equipped to handle a catastrophe on their own. Cooperation is arguably the best human quality with regards to community survival, and while companies have obviously gathered around shared interests in the past, they should be open to some of its newer forms now. An example of these is asymmetric business ecosystems, which have formed around data-sharing between large companies and SMEs, another one is international business cluster­ing, which has strong backing from the European Union and is sometimes even a prerequisite for easier access to some of its funding, such as COSME or Horizon Europe. These partnerships may be varied in kind and intercon­nection, but they share an ethos of pooling resources and the commit­ment to a common goal.

While curiosity makes for better CSR

Do you know what is important for your stakeholders? – Businesses and individuals alike really should ask more questions. Not only from ourselves (although we are often drawn to think that’s where the best advice comes from), but also from those around us who do not necessarily share our views. Openness to a wide set of views correlates with better prepared­ness in times of uncertainty, because it allows us to form more accurate assessments of the world. Stakehold­er engagement has been shown to have beneficial impacts on company practices and many banks managing ESG funds are active shareholders. This type of environmental and social awareness is often behind why even energy companies are currently interested in protecting and increasing pollinators. While most of ESG-related performance is still communicated via Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), the actions that have the best con­sequences are not always well-quan­tified. And it is these forms of action that do and will continue to spur sustainability in the energy sector.

How are your most at-risk stakehold­ers doing? – We should also be willing to own our role in the broader society by engaging more openly with struc­tural issues. On a global scale, Finnish society is among the most egalitarian, but even we face social problems, such as energy poverty. Although the standard of Finnish housing is unde­niably good and warrants at least a little national pride, simultaneously, according to EU statistics, the rela­tive share of energy expenditures for Finnish households is significant and abnormally low energy expenditures are recorded for 29.9% of them. These figures may have many explanations, such as alternative heat sources and the methodological challenges in accounting for housing coopera­tives, but the most unfortunate one is restricted energy spending, which has been estimated to affect 60,000– 100,000 households.

By definition, structural problems cannot be solved by any individual actor alone, and the energy sector is no exception. We are an important part of the solution, however, and our awareness and our willingness to speak up are crucial. In order to maintain their credentials, business­es should be able to motivate their actions not only to their shareholders, but – through socially responsible investment practices – also to those directly affected by them.

And tangible things make for a better Green Transition

What are you really doing for the environment? – Regardless of where one stands, energy companies or engineers are never value-neutral. The decision to invest in, design, build and operate a large industrial plant carries implications that all of us can see and appreciate. Therefore, in order to strive for responsibility and sustainability, the actions we take should be as real as the results of our work.

Legal and financial frameworks for green industrial projects are begin­ning to emerge, but businesses that concentrate on meeting the baseline are not well-prepared to compete against those that go beyond. Best practices often vary, and they can be mapped with the help of stakeholder engagement, but it is important for businesses to articulate their goals in concrete terms and to ensure those goals are met. In the age of Twitter activism, genuinely made but broad and vague gestures at sustainability are just as likely to gain the label of “greenwashing” as those made in bad faith. Consumers, decision-makers and financiers are more than capable of judging corporate responsibility, and will do so. It can thus be useful and effective to treat sustainability goals as systematically as one might an engineering project, by formulat­ing practical steps, setting attainable objectives and documenting one’s efforts, successful and unsuccessful, in a transparent way.

Financing and engineering the Green Transition

The Green Transition requires a push for investment and innovation the like of which has not been seen in our lifetime. It may be the most significant New Normal of the 21st century and its burden on any societal actors, the energy sector included, should not be underestimated. Most of the mes­sages we are shown tell us that we are not on the road to success, which has spurred some understandable counterreactions that either attempt to discount the severity of the issue, to redirect the conversation to other tracks or to show that things really aren’t that bad, look. The crisis is here, nevertheless, and once its effects start to cumulate the consequences will concern us all. Fortunately, the ability and the will to act are already evident in the Finnish energy sector and good options to help us undertake the tran­sition are available.

ESG and green finance are exam­ples of a rehabilitated form of cap­italism looking to adapt to an envi­ronment that no longer supports old modes of thinking. Socially responsi­ble investment forms a set of metrics and classifications being developed to better define what sustainable development means for businesses, which can solidify the concept of how to be a responsible actor in one’s field. Attracting ESG financing is a matter of adopting corporate social responsibil­ity thinking as an integral part of one’s business model, which begins with a willingness to challenge some of our most entrenched ideas of the world. But it is worth noting that financing the Green Transition will take us only half of the way.

We must also recognize the need to apply sustainability to the way we consult. Perhaps by virtue of its central position for decarbonization efforts, the energy sector today is a relatively climate-aware part of heavy industry. This sets a challenge for us as design­ers, because in order to best help our clients we must stay ahead of them. The next five years will show the world which technologies will come to dominate the Green Transition, but we as designers and engineers cannot afford to wait that long.

By engaging with ESG and sus­tainability thinking, this article argues above all that meeting reality where it is allows us a more accurate under­standing of it – and a more resilient position alongside it. Engineers should work to meet and even preferably pre-empt environmental, social and gov­ernance issues related to our projects. We already seek to constantly attract, maintain and update our professional knowledge, but we should also open ourselves to the kinds of dialogue that bring us better in touch with the broader society. In a sense, engineer­ing for the Green Transition requires of us what we already do best: solving problems. ESG, sustainability and a broad societal dialogue are what allow us to see those problems better. What we can do to help the transition along is to show and guide our clients to­wards our common goal: for a cleaner, more equitable and more just world for them, us and everyone else.

Heidi Käkelä

M.A. Anthropology
(B.Eng. Energy Technology)

Heidi Käkelä is an environmental anthropologist and energy engineer. Before dunking her foot into STEM, she worked as a researcher studying community responses and disaster reconstruction in the Caribbean, Australia Pacific and Asia, and as an educator in Finland. She is part of Elomatic’s International Finance Institutions (IFI) team, which provides engineering expertise for large international development projects, particularly in Central and East Asia, Europe and Russia. She also goes spelunking in EU regulations and funding.

Intelligent Engineering

Latest post

20/09/2022

Vaasan Sähkö has commissioned Elomatic to design and project manage a future heat pump plant

Kirjoittanut By Elomatic Oy

Vaasan Sähkö will have a plant built at the Pått wastewater treatment plant to recover waste heat from treated wastewater. The heat will be fed into the district heating network, where it will be sufficient...

Read more » Lue lisää »
Top Engineer

Looking for a silver bullet, or, how to make the world carbon neutral by 2050?

Author Teemu Turunen
Posted on

The European Union, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea and over 110 other countries have committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050 and China has set the same goal for 2060 [1]. The United States will, according to the recently published goal, cut their emission from the 2005 level by 50–52 per cent by 2030. How realistic are these goals and which measures are being taken to achieve them?

What did the world of energy look like in 1953 and 2018?

The conversation about our society’s efforts towards a carbon neutral future has accelerated and different countries have published their goals for this tran­sition. Roadmaps and lists of measures on how to concretely implement the change are currently being drafted. When defining the measures, it is im­portant to examine both the change’s realistic schedule and impact in relation to the goal. One way to see the future is to base the scenarios partly on history and the current situation.

When we examine energy pro­duction in the 1950s (Figure 1) we can see that it was based almost entirely on fossil fuels. Correspond­ingly, when we examine the numbers from 2018, we notice that in 65 years, carbon’s share of the world’s energy production has decreased by almost a half, but on the other hand, oil’s share has remained almost the same. Correspondingly, the share of natural gas has significantly increased while renewable forms of energy have increased to be one seventh of overall energy.

The speed of the energy transi­tion must be accelerated if we want to achieve an almost carbon-neutral world within the next 30 years. When we examine the reasons for the slow change, at least two factors become noticeable; energy’s cheap historical price and climate awareness only becoming widespread in the last decade. The low price of fossil energy has kept it in a central role in energy production while also slowing down the implementation of new technol­ogy. Wind- and solar-based energy production has only recently started to grow significantly, boosted by both public policy instruments and the development of technology. Policy in­struments will continue to have a key role in the energy transition in future. On the other hand, climate awareness has improved in the 2000s. Its most notable messengers include Al Gore with his documentary An Inconven­ient Truth and Greta Thunberg with her campaign Skolstrejk för kilmatet. Gradually, a growing number of coun­tries are committing to climate goals.

How to keep moving forward, what are concrete measures for the next thirty years? We have numerous methods, and all the technology needed for the change is already avail­able to us. The measures needed can be roughly divided into the following main categories:

1. Moving on from fossil fuels

2.Energy efficiency for different areas of society

3.Carbon dioxide absorption and utilisation as long-term tools

Next, we will examine these solutions in more detail.

Moving on from fossil fuels

As presented above, it is obvious that we must give fossil fuels up in a con­trolled manner. In practice this means that there is no individual energy solution available that could replace all fossil-based energy sources. The overall solution must be formed from several different operators and tech­nologies. When we compare different measures, we must take the entire lifecycle into account in order to en­sure that the results are comparable. Figure 2 presents producing electric­ity in different ways and examines the CO2 emissions produced throughout the lifecycle (LCA).

From the figure we can see that production forms based on sun­light, wind and water distinguish themselves. A noteworthy matter is the surprisingly large environmental impact of biofuels, when the entire lifecycle is considered in the exami­nation. Another noteworthy matter in the figure is the significant range of wood (the wood has been calcu­lated a higher value in situations in which the harvesting has not been performed sustainably), which is likely to set preconditions for growing and utilising forests. Either way, it is clear that different forms of production will also be needed in the future and their sustainability must be developed.

Lately, the public conversation has revolved around the EU’s taxonomy proposal in which the objective is to develop a system of classification for environmentally friendly investments. The classification is used to promote the implementation of sustainable investments and the European Green Deal by providing companies, inves­tors and political decision-makers with appropriate definitions so that they can focus investments on sustainable solutions. This system will probably affect the financing available to ener­gy production investments and guide them towards more sustainable forms of production [5].

One of the tools for the journey towards clean energy production is sector integration. At its best, it is a cost-efficient way of utilising the characteristics (especially flexibility) of different sectors so that the share of renewable energy used in the system can be maximised while also ensuring the security of supply [6]. Advancing electrification is also seen as a tool for achieving carbon neutrality. Increas­ing the share of renewable energy enables companies to move on from fossil fuels, but on the other hand, it will create variation in our energy sys­tem. This in turn will also create new business opportunities for different operators. In practice, the advancing electrification can be divided into the three following areas:

  • Direct electrification by, for example, producing heat with electric boilers or replacing a process device that uses natural gas with one that uses electricity
  • Electrification with heat pumps, which enables utilisation of lost heat and production of added value with a smaller amount of electric power
  • Hydrogen production with renewable energy ad utilising it both directly and in the manufacturing of synfuel

 

Energy efficiency measures for different areas of society

Energy efficiency is not a new thing; it has been discussed since the energy crisis of the 1970s, first as avoiding the wasting of energy, then as saving energy, and in the last decade it has come to mean energy efficiency. In future, it will be seen as one of the most cost-effective solutions for combatting climate change. It has been estimated that in Europe it could be possible to save 150–220 Twh a year by investing in energy-efficient solutions and, for example, new CHP technology [7]. The EU has set the goal of increasing energy efficiency by 32.5% by 2030 [8]. A noteworthy aspect of improving energy efficien­cy is that technologies that improve industry’s energy efficiency are mainly well known and there is no need to develop new technology in a major way. It is essential to implement new technology and expand the concepts that have been proved to be good and economical over the borders of industrial sectors [9].

One concrete measure for promot­ing energy efficiency is to use heat pumps in industrial sectors. When we examine different industrial sectors’ heat use and temperature levels in Europe, we see that the utilisation opportunities for heat pumps vary from sector to sector (Figure 3). It has been estimated that the technical po­tential for industrial heat pumps could be (in the EU 28 area) as much as 1,717 PJ (477 Twh), of which about 270 (75 Twh) could currently be realised as financial potential [10].

In future, thanks to the develop­ment of the heat pump technology, increasingly higher temperature levels can be reached, which will create new utilisation opportunities for them. The objective is to utilise heat pumps increasingly deeper in the process­es and in increasingly complicated application sites, which will give utilising them together with different stored heats a significant role. This will promote the electrification mentioned above as part of energy production.

Carbon absorption could help us reach carbon negativity

Carbon negativity refers to a prod­uct’s, company’s, municipality’s or country’s net effect that removes carbon from the atmosphere, which then prevents or slows down climate change. In practice this means using a method to absorb more carbon than gets released into the atmosphere. The methods for implementing this in practice are being developed and examples of the technologies are the following [11, 12]:

  • The CCS technology, in which carbon dioxide created from incineration is collected and stored

in the earth’s crust. If it is about collecting from incineration of bio­mass, the term is BECCS technology

  • The CCU technology, or, collection and utilisation of carbon dioxide. This technology utilises the ‘power to fuel’ method, in which carbon-neutral fuels, such as synthetic gas, methanol, or Fischer-Tropsch products, are produced
  • Collecting carbon dioxide directly from the air and utilising it in the CCS and CCU solitions
  • Afforestation and taking care of existing carbon sinks are tools used in absorption of carbon. Sustaina-ble forestry is an essential part of this
  • Absorbing carbon with products, such as biochar which can be used as a soil conditioner, for example.

Carbon absorption will become a major tool after 2050, but the first commercially profitable projects will likely be seen as soon as in the 2030s. Carbon dioxide may not be collected in the utilisation of first-phase P2X technologies, but these projects will pave they way for the development of technology for full-scale CCU. Overall, the developing hydrogen economy will be connected to the absorption and utilisation of carbon in the future. Hydrogen technology will also be connected to a wide variety of tech­nologies and application sites and it will have a significant role in both the electrification of the society and the replacing of fossil fuels.

 

Energy transition is an opportunity, especially for suppliers of clean energy

Carbon-neutrality goals also create entirely new business opportunities for technology suppliers, energy companies and industry. The car­bon handprint enables new exports opportunities for suppliers of clean technology. The carbon handprint refers to how much one’s own actions help others decrease their emissions. In this way, a pioneering operator can both grown its carbon handprint and benefit when selling its solutions to others [13].

A good example of the carbon handprint and carbon absorption is re­placing glass wool with a wood-based solution. The provider of a wood-based solution can affect its custom­er’s carbon footprint and, at the same time, the product absorbs carbon for a long time (Figure 4).

For energy companies, the energy transition brings with it the challenge of adjusting the company’s main business, but it can also be an op­portunity to reform and develop the operations. Many energy companies have boldly started to offer different services, such as recharging points for electric cars, district cooling, solutions of distributed energy, circular econ­omy services, etc. In the future, it will also be possible to provide customers with the same amount of energy, even with smaller investments, which will in part lessen the risks related to core business.

Different industrial sectors are at different stages in their carbon-neu­trality efforts, but for industrial com­panies that operate very efficiently and environmentally friendly the carbon-neutrality targets can become a competitive edge in the future. However, investments in low-carbon energy production, the circular econ­omy and energy efficiency will still be needed.

Summary

As we can see, there is no individual silver bullet that could be used to combat climate change and ensure a carbon-neutral future. Many different, strongly interconnected solutions of different levels are needed. There­fore, it becomes important that each operator chooses the most impactful and efficient measures that best suit its operations. It is also essential to change the way people think so that the energy transition can be seen as an opportunity in which the anticipa­tory and active operators can be the winners of the transition time. Cooperation between different operators will also be central so that resources and competences can be efficiently focused for the common cause.

Teemu Turunen

Phil. Lic. (Env. Science)

Teemu Turunen has extensive experience in energy and process consulting in several industries. He currently works as Business Development Director in the energy and process business area. His focus is to lead the development of sustainable solutions for future needs.

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Technology for recycled, customized equipment or machinery

Author Heikki Pirilä
Posted on

It is easy to get your customer’s attention when remarkable savings in purchase costs as well as in the schedule timetable can be promised. Compared to brand new machinery, the cost savings
with recycled machines in an optimum case can be as high as 60 per cent. A similar reduction of lead time, or even more, can be achieved as well.

Naturally, there are several factors to be considered when calculating the final cost. The state of the machinery in question, the possible need for technological conversion and the cost of dismantling and transport to the reassembling place. Usually, startup companies with their pilot projects get the biggest financial benefits of machinery recycling. However, deep knowledge from a wide variety of industries is needed when looking for savings. We offer long-term experience in the acquisition of recyclable equipment as well as the possibility to perform their test runs and modifications – we have carried out several test runs of recyclable equipment together with customers and acquired and modified the equipment before re-commissioning.

Benefits of recycling

Using recyclable machinery can havesome remarkable advantages compared to brand new machinery. Delivery time can be as much as a year shorter compared to new equipment. The larger the recycled entities are, the more considerable the benefits are. Despite recycling and scaling, even entire plants can be converted. Reacting to changes in demand for example, e.g. paper mills can be converted to board mills. In cases where recyclable equipment needs to be modified or upgraded for technical reasons, today’s safety issues must also be taken into account and the equipment brought into compliance with the requirements. In some cases, good performance guarantees can be obtained from the equipment, but mechanical warranties less frequently. Good performance
guarantees and mechanical warranties are always provided for new equipment. Especially in limited-budget projects, e.g. in pilot plant projects, recycled equipment has been successfully used. We have broad experience of working with start-up companies in several areas, including bio-based materials. Together with the customer, we have provided all or several of conceptual design, basic design and/ or detail design services together with implementation services for plants, scaling from laboratory to pilot, then from pilot to demo and finally scaling from demo to commercial.
These projects have taken place not only inside Finland, but also from Finland to other EU countries. One recent successful recycling project was to move wheat starch machinery from Finland to Lithuania.
There is still no established technology for the processes of the currently strong growth of circular and bioeconomy. In this particular technology, there is a dual challenge. First, to find usable technology and second, to find appropriate machinery. We have been able to use our knowhow to help with these technology choices, for example in the food and pharma industry and process industry in general.

Finding suitable technology

The key is to find technology on a scale suitable for new processes. It is also possible to adapt existing technology to be suitable for another type of process. We are able to combine GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) knowhow from food and pharmaceutical processes to other process areas. With versatile and long experience in various process engineering assignments in the process industry, we are able to support startups that are already in the early stages of development. Evaluating the test arrangements and defining further tests together with the customers is an important part of this process. Companies do not necessarily want their competitors to get information about changes in their production lines, investments or R&D plans. Therefore, a third party is needed to intermediate in selling unnecessary machinery or buying machines no longer needed in some other company. However, startups are the ones getting biggest benefits of recycled
machines. Cutting costs and delivery times is a game changer for these companies. Accelerating pilot projects without costs is another driver.

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Heikki Pirilä

Vice President at Process Industry

Heikki’s special competences are project selling and execution duties in process industry. During his career he has participated in more than fifty various types of geenfield and rebuild industrial projects, both domestic and foreign, such as turn-key, EPCM and engineering projects including also project management and procurement tasks. Heikki is an excellent team player and his willingness to travel has gained him noticeable international work experience.

Intelligent Engineering

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Vaasan Sähkö will have a plant built at the Pått wastewater treatment plant to recover waste heat from treated wastewater. The heat will be fed into the district heating network, where it will be sufficient...

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One’s waste is another’s resource

Authors Heikki Pirilä, Mari Vasara, Tiia-Maaria Ketola
Posted on

Our economy is based on disposable goods and fossil energy sources, but new methods are constantly evolving. The ideals of circular economy is that there is basically no waste – only repurposed materials and active cross-industrial use of branch currents. Here we investigate zero-emission fuels and game-changing fiber technologies in which Elomatic has played a pioneering role.

Sustainability suits you

According to the European Parliament, clothing accounts for between 2% and 10% of the environmental impact of EU consumption. In addition, cotton cultivation takes up a lot of arable land and consumes immense amounts of water. From 2025 onwards, an EU directive requires that all end-of-life textiles from consumers must be separately collected. As it currently stands, the majority of textile waste is thrown away, and the dimensions are huge – over 70 million kilograms of unused material every year in Finland alone. Thanks to new technologies, most of that resource could be used to form new virgin fibers. Elomatic has partnered in a ground-breaking Finnish innovation, Infinited Fiber technology, that takes cellulose-rich waste that would otherwise be landfilled or
burned – old textiles, used cardboard, crop residues like rice or wheat straw, and more – and transforms them into premium-quality superfibers for the textile industry. In addition, polyester residues are removed from the cotton material using methods like those of the pulp industry.

Licensing Infinited Fiber’s carbamate technology would allow it to be used in converting existing capacities, such as viscose factories, to be more environmentally friendly. With the technology, factories could produce fiber without carbon disulfide CS2 – a challenging, hazardous, and un-ecological chemical in the fashion industry value chain. Another visionary invention is pioneered by Spinnova, for whom Elomatic designed a pilot plant. The startup, based in the city of Jyväskylä, uses wood-based materials to mechanically produce textile fibers. Softwood pulp is transformed into a wool-like material without any chemicals and with only 1% water usage in stark contrast to the production of cotton fibers. Spinnova’s fiber has already been trialed by the Finnish design house Marimekko and the Norwegian outdoor manufacturer Bergans.

Fueling the new world

Could we finally approach the breakthrough of hydrogen vehicles? When produced by renewable energy, hydrogen technology could enable fueling our transportation with zero carbon. Hydrogen as an energy source has been known for hundreds of years, but high costs and challenges in storage hinder its progress. However, in the Power2AX project by the Finnish project developer and investor Flexens, Elomatic studied different scenarios to produce hydrogen to be used in new ferries in the Åland archipelago. The approach includes harvesting wind energy, creating hydrogen
fuel with the generated wind energy, and finally using the renewable fuel in ferries. The archipelago has ideal wind conditions – in addition to being a suitable environment for revolutionary green technologies as one of the most beautiful locations of the world. Power2AX is a textbook case of a new technology that has immense potential but needs funding and subsidization to fulfil its potential. Excitingly, Flexens has applied for EU funding and project realization is expected to start in 2024.

Let’s start the cultural change

Pioneering technologies often get stuck in a chicken-and-egg situation of supply and demand: at small volumes they can be expensive to produce, which makes them less appealing for clients, but if investments would flow in then the production costs would decrease. Changes in methods and ways of thinking always take time, but as history shows, distant visions may become everyday practice as soon as they are simple and cost-efficient enough. Elomatic can play a major role in transforming our clients’ businesses or allowing them to take a leap to environmentally friendly materials or processes. It is inevitable that legislation and consumer demands will continue to change for the good toward circular economy, and with that, material efficiency becomes a competitive edge. Even more so than before, we must take these principles into account right from the planning phase. How can we overcome unsustainable processes? What materials shall we use? How do we repurpose them? As transition from disposable goods and fossil energy sources is accelerating, now is the moment to stay ahead of curve and help our clients produce the materials of tomorrow.

Heikki Pirilä

Vice President at Process Industry

Heikki’s special competences are project selling and execution duties in process industry. During his career he has participated in more than fifty various types of geenfield and rebuild industrial projects, both domestic and foreign, such as turn-key, EPCM and engineering projects including also project management and procurement tasks. Heikki is an excellent team player and his willingness to travel has gained him noticeable international work experience.

Mari Vasara

Senior Consulting Engineer
M.Sc 2007 (Tech), B.Sc. 2002
Mari Vasara has more than 15 years of experience in the paper and chemical industry. She has worked as a process development engineer, laboratory engineer and process designer, gaining deep knowledge of the paper industry applications as well as extensive knowledge of unit operations in the process industry. She also has strong experience in laboratory analytics, especially on the biofuels side. Mari has worked in the Plant group of
Elomatic's Jyväskylä office for 3.5 years.

Tiia-Maaria Ketola

Consulting Engineer
D. Sc. (Tech.) 2014, M. Sc. (Tech.) 2007, B. Eng. 2003
Tiia-Maaria Ketola has worked as a Consulting Engineer at Elomatic for more than a year and a half, working on various pharmaceutical-, energy- and process design projects. She is a qualified material reviewer as well as Tiia-Maaria has performed demanding process chemistry simulations. In addition, she has more than ten years of work experience in researcher- / research- and development work both in Finland and abroad in research institutes, universities and industrial companies. Her area of expertise is chemistry and especially physical chemistry.

Intelligent Engineering

Latest post

20/09/2022

Vaasan Sähkö has commissioned Elomatic to design and project manage a future heat pump plant

Kirjoittanut By Elomatic Oy

Vaasan Sähkö will have a plant built at the Pått wastewater treatment plant to recover waste heat from treated wastewater. The heat will be fed into the district heating network, where it will be sufficient...

Read more » Lue lisää »
Top Engineer

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