Visions of Tomorrow – Engineered Today

The end of combustion – a happy ending?

Author Sebastian Kankkonen
Posted on

We have many reasons to change our energy consumption behavior and replace fossil fuels. However, even alternative energy sources have their drawbacks. Hydrogen is a hot topic, but its large-scale production and storage pose challenges. That is why we must also consider the potential for energy savings. By optimizing any industrial process to be more efficient, it is possible to save both energy and costs.


For several centuries, centralized energy production has relied heavily on combustion alone. The heating of households has been done by means of combustion for thousands of years. One turning point for the combustion that we can remember was the oil crisis in the early 1970’s when the world realized that the resources are not infinite, and the oil price soared.

There are several reasons to reconsider our energy use

Oil, along with other fossil fuels such as coal and gas, have been the cornerstone of energy production and transportation for all of us. Several mechanisms have been making us all rethink and change our energy consumption behavior.

Firstly, the cost mechanism with rising fuel prices made us start saving energy which decreased combustion. Then later, environmental regulations became more stringent and further decreased combustion of especially solid fuels. The advances in combustion technology have luckily compensated much.

In recent months, political unrest and the war in Ukraine have made us think about where the combustibles are coming from, and sanctions could be imposed to further decrease combustion of fossil fuels.

We do have several alternatives

Some of our alternatives have more obvious downsides than others. The combustion of biomass is still considered to be approvable; the coal cycle of wood-based fuels just circulates faster. Still, we do have other pollutants to the air than CO2, but they could to a certain degree be reduced by emission control equipment such as scrubbers and filters.

Nuclear energy is a source without CO2 emissions and does not generate emissions to the air. However, various events and technical design flaws have shown us in the past that nuclear energy is not a problem-free solution. The latest nuclear power plants have much more intense safety protocols to prevent nuclear catastrophes from occurring.

Alternative energy sources also have their downsides

Renewables, like water, solar or wind power, are emission-free energy sources. Even they have downsides, since they do affect nature by causing obstacles or barriers for other animals like fish or birds.

Geothermal projects have in general been an environmentally friendly way of producing energy. On a larger scale, they have reportedly generated unrest of the bedrock. Heat pumps are not generating energy from nothing either. Both are a source of heat energy but are also consuming electrical energy of higher exergy.

The challenges of hydrogen are related to production scales and storage

Hydrogen is a very hot topic today. If you are starting to see the pattern of my article you might expect me to start talking about the Zeppelin Hindenburg now. You are wrong. The challenge with hydrogen lies with the large-scale production and storage facilities.

Traditionally hydrogen production and consumption have been smaller scale applications and have been operating without problems for more than a century. There is no sense in producing hydrogen from other viable energy sources just for the sake of hydrogen production. We need to see the big picture.

There is a unique solution for each process

The one alternative left is the most obvious one. Saving energy. By optimizing any industrial process to be more efficient, we can save energy and save costs. In some cases, we can generate heat and recover it in an efficient way.

There is no quick fix, nor is there a single solution. Every client has their unique processes and challenges, and our task at Elomatic is to understand our client and to give them the solution that is the best for them.

Only then can we justify our existence. And maybe save the planet as well.

Sebastian Kankkonen

M.Sc. (Energy Technology)

Sebastian Kankkonen graduated from Helsinki University of Technology in 1997. Throughout his career he has worked with forest industry, process industry and energy projects in particular with combusting of a broad range of fuels including process design, modelling and procurement of equipment. Sebastian joined Elomatic in 2010 and works now as a Leading Expert focusing on sales.

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WAAM printing by ANDRITZ Savonlinna Works Oy

Fast developing 3D printing is one solution to component shortage

Authors Teemu Launis, Martti Tryyki
Posted on

3D printing as technology is young and relatively unknown, which is why it isn’t yet fully utilized. The method is, however, developing at a fast pace and should not be ignored, even in the light of component shortage. The biggest challenge we see is that the potential of the method is not yet sufficiently understood. At its best, 3D printing can reform your entire business, when you can print products and spare parts fast and near the user.

Mass production of 3D prints is already an everyday thing. However, the technology is hampered by the lack of standardization and different manufacturing process compared to traditional manufacturing methods. The biggest challenge for the widespread usage of 3D printing is that people don’t quite understand what kind of possibilities the manufacturing method can offer.

When you can print objects easily and take the product lifecycle into account from the design stage, your entire business will revolutionize – All of a sudden, you can manufacture locally the parts that used to be transported from further away. Additionally, the maintenance and delivery of spare parts becomes faster, and they can even be carried out on site. And this will naturally affect your whole business logic.

3D printing makes objects lighter and brings savings

One of the great things about 3D printing is that it gives you the freedom to determine the exact location of the material used. This saves material compared to machining or casting, as you can optimize the 3D printable parts to best suit the application. The method also makes it possible to combine multiple parts into a single object. This reduces the need for assembly and the number of items.

The more you simulate the object and understand the potential of the manufacturing process, the more you reduce material consumption and the more cost-effective manufacturing becomes. The key is to make use of the possibilities that 3D printing can provide you in designing.

Best of all, when the object becomes lighter, it usually brings savings to your customer as well. For example, the lighter you can make the boom of a forestry machine, the less energy it takes to move it. Alternatively, they can use this saved energy to increase capacity. It is also easier to control the movements of a lightweight structure.

Towards more energy efficient solutions

3D printing also allows the optimization of objects that have internal flow systems. This is very useful, for example, in designing cooling and heating, when you can optimize heat transfer by using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD).

Additionally, you can manufacture even more challenging objects. For example, you can create holes and channels inside an object that cannot be made by drilling or casting. By first defining the interfaces, the required materials, and their mechanical properties, you can then print the optimized object.

Batch production of 3D printing is also suitable for small parts, which can be produced in dozens or even hundreds in a single run. However, the object must always be designed for printing, the same way you design an object to be casted.

Even large objects can be printed

In Finland, a project called DREAMS, led by DIMECC, was launched this spring. Its object is to create an open material database for 3D metal printing. The database will make up for the lack of industry standards and facilitate the use of 3D printing for the most demanding applications. The DREAMS project is financed by Business Finland and it is part of the FAME ecosystem.

The project involves a large number of Finnish research institutes and companies. Elomatic is also participating in the development of WAAM printing (Wire and Arc Additive Manufacturing). In WAAM printing, a robot welds structures layer by layer. This way it is possible to print even large metal objects, and the size is not a restraint unlike when printing with an AM machine. The method can even be used to manufacture rocket fuel tanks!

3D printing methods can bring relief, especially in times of crisis when importing parts becomes a bottleneck: when it is enough that information is moving, objects can be quickly sub-manufactured domestically. Another advantage of WAAM printing is that the material used is welding wire, which is easier to import to Finland than, for example, steel sheets.

Want to know how to multiply the benefits of 3D printing? Learn how 3D scanning supports 3D printing >>

Teemu Launis

Vice President, Sales
Mechanical Engineering Services

Teemu Launis has worked in mechanical engineering projects in various positions from designer to project manager. He is one of Elomatic’s representatives in the Finnish Additive Manufacturing Ecosystem. In 2010, Teemu set up Elomatic’s Tampere office. He is currently working in sales of Elomatic’s mechanical engineering services.

Martti Tryyki

Design Manager, Mechanical Engineering

Martti Tryyki started his career in 2000 at the University of Oulu. In 2012, he seized the opportunity to work as Design Manager in Elomatic's Shanghai office, and two years later he continued his work in Finland. His main interests are tailor-made test machine projects, vast utilization of Elomatic’s R&D services, and development of the engineering skills of his group.

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Biogas is a climate friendly solution that Finland now needs

Author Teemu Turunen
Posted on

The war in Ukraine has led to a situation where we should be able to move away from Russian natural gas on short notice. Biogas is the quickest sustainable alternative, as its implementation does not require drastic changes to the existing infrastructure. Biogas is also an environmentally friendly solution: it can help reduce greenhouse gases, promote the circular economy, and close nutrient cycling loops. However, the availability of biogas is limited and investments are required in its production.

The war in Ukraine has driven Europe into an energy crisis, in which the availability of natural gas plays a key role in Central Europe. In some European countries, the share of Russian imported natural gas makes up nearly a sixth of the country’s total energy consumption, which makes it hard to move away from.

The situation in Finland is less critical, as the corresponding share here is less than three percent. Currently, roughly half of natural gas goes into the industrial sector and half into electricity and heat production, where it is possible to replace it with tanker-imported LNG, wood, coal, and peat.

However, it is important to remember the sustainability aspect: while replacing natural gas with another fossil fuel may be a temporary solution to an acute crisis, the direction must clearly be toward a more sustainable transition.

The situation is challenging for industrial undertakings

Moving away from natural gas may require significant technological investments from industrial undertakings, and these can be difficult to implement on short notice. One possible solution would be electrification, where the industrial processes that use natural gas would be replaced with processes that use electricity instead. In practical terms, this can be done with direct electrification using electric boilers or, for example, replacing industrial gas furnaces with electrical ones.

In some cases, it is also possible to use indirect electrification, where heat pumps and electrical resistance used for priming play a central role.

The easiest way to replace natural gas is by using biogas. This way, the changes to the existing infrastructure are small. However, in our acute situation, the availability of biogas is limited and investments are required in its production. Let’s take a closer look into what these investments could be in Finland’s case.

Biogas projects require public support

In our current situation, various elements are required to support biogas projects, one of which is the act on promoting the use of renewable energy sources in transport that entered into force in 2022. In the legislation, biogas becomes part of the must-carry obligation with set limitations.

At the time of writing this text, a change in the legislation has been proposed, where increasing the share of the must-carry obligation is postponed. It is important to note that this proposal does not seek to change the additional obligation for advanced biofuels and biogas. This is a good direction, and we hope the round of statements sees the approval of the proposal as is.

The state should support biogas projects also through other means, such as by clarifying and harmonizing subsidies for operators. This would make it easier for smaller operators to plan projects and implement cooperation projects with multiple operators collaborating. Various benefit-based financial instruments where the price of the subsidy is tied to the environmental gain from the project would make it easier to get projects started.

Tax-related decisions also play a role

Tax-related decisions play their part with regard to the profitability of projects and the market development. From the perspective of biogas, the excise tax and electricity tax are relevant.

At the start of 2022, the legislation made biogas a fuel subject to the excise tax, with the exception of biogas used for heating, which was classified as sustainable. Producers of biogas need to have a sustainability system approved by the Energy Authority in place in order for the gas to be classified as sustainable and therefore tax-free. In other cases, gas is subject to the full excise tax for biogas, also when used for heating.

With regard to the electricity tax, the industrial production of recycled materials and processing afford operators with energy tax subsidy, as in practice electricity used by these factories belongs in the electricity tax class II. As for biogas, the interpretation remains somewhat unclear, but the lower tax class naturally affects the profitability of the factories.

Tools of direction need to account for predictability

We also need to remember that, at some point, the limited production of biogas may need to be directed where its use produces the greatest benefit and most significant environmental effects. We need to carefully consider these direction tools and communicate in a predictable manner to help operators adapt to the changing situation.

In general, all the direction tools of the state need to account for predictability. This way, there is no need for the operators to hesitate to drive their projects forward. In addition, the state should attempt to streamline the permit process and clarify the financing and subsidy concepts.

The attractiveness of the biogas sector should be promoted

As investing in clean solutions is seen as a central risk management tool in the financing market, the circular economy and the production projects for renewable energy sources are currently highly interesting as potential investments. This development can be expected to be highlighted especially with regard to biogas, as it can be used to influence various areas of sustainability: reducing greenhouse gases, promoting the circular economy and closing nutrient cycling loops.

However, it is important to remember investors inspect opportunities from a holistic perspective in relation to other potential investments. Therefore, we should seek to promote the attractiveness of the biogas industry as a potential investment.

The Finnish biogas market is still developing

In 2020, the production of bio methane in Finland was approximately 110 GWh, and the production of biogas was approximately 768 GWh (total sum corresponds to roughly 3.5 percent of natural gas use in Finland). At the time, there were around 79 reactor plants. In addition, bio methane was processed in 21 plants.

It is worth noting that the market sees the sector divided between one strong operator in Gasum and heterogenous smaller operators, with a focus on promoting individual projects. This division may in part reduce the interest of investors toward projects in the sector.

Especially with regard to smaller projects, the technological risks and business risks are highlighted, which is reflected in financing for the projects.

The environmental perspective of biogas should be emphasized

State action has its own significance in promoting financing opportunities, but the development of the biogas industry’s visibility and image is just as important. Farm-scale opportunities have yet to come up in any large capacity in the public debate.

In Finland, the image has been influenced by past technology producers’ technical and financial challenges, which have ultimately resulted in bankruptcy and several unfinished factory projects. However, new players have entered the sector and the number of ongoing projects has increased.

Now would be the opportune moment to develop the public image of the sector as, in the industrial sector, many operators would like to utilize biogas as part of the process of moving away from natural gas. On the other hand, securing the viability and security of supply in the agricultural sector have become ever more important themes following the war in Ukraine. Therefore, the environmental perspective of biogas should be further emphasized in the public debate.

Cooperation will play a key role in the future

The technological side of the sector has been characterized by relatively small operators whose limited resources have not easily allowed for the development of scalable technologies. For this reason, there is clearly room for technological suppliers in the sector who can implement large-scale projects.

On its part, technological development is limited by the lack of competence both on the side of project operators and the authorities. It is worth noting that the production of biogas requires interdisciplinary competence. For example, the heterogeneity of raw materials has affected technological reproducibility and scalability.

In a typical project, competence is required from biology, design, and logistics to financing and profitability. For this reason, it is especially important to “projectify” the whole as part of more extensive ecosystems and cooperation networks.

The roe of the biogas sector as part of the energy system

What is the role of the biogas sector in the future? It is hard to give a definitive answer, but it is my belief that in the short term it will be a significant operator regarding the move away from fossil fuels. According to different scenarios, the need for biogas was estimated at 4–11 TWh before the war in Ukraine, and the ongoing crisis works to speed up this development.

Following the resolution of the acute situation, the focus will presumably move more on the expansion of the use of biogas and mapping new ways to use it. The security of supply perspective will be one that will promote the expansion of the use of biogas and will pave the way for more versatile use of gases both in transport and the industrial sector.

I believe that, in the future, we will be using synthetic methane, bio methane, biogas and hydrogen, which will also open new doors for other electricity-based fuels and solutions in the hydrogen economy.

Learn how to improve the profitability of biogas projects >>

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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How to improve the profitability of biogas projects?

Author Teemu Turunen
Posted on

In order to improve the profitability of biogas projects, it is important to develop the entire production value chain. The end product should meet an adequate degree of refinement, and a market should be found for the process side products. Increasing the size of a project usually improves overall profitability, in addition to which the location of the factory plays a significant role. It is important to note that most of the ways to affect the profitability of operations can only be utilized at the design stage.

The profitability aspect of biogas projects has proven to be challenging despite various forms of support having been available. Developing the entire value chain plays a key role in promoting the profitability of projects. In practice, this means development with regard to both raw materials and end products.

Developing the end product market plays a central role: the end product should meet an adequate degree of refinement based on the need, and a market should be found for the process side products, such as digested sludge.

For instance, at the farm scale, the leftovers from the digestion of manure-based biogas can be processed into recycled fertilizer, which could be used to replace manure in the fields. The benefits of recycled fertilizer are smaller rates of phosphorus washouts in the waters as well as the type of nitrogen, which plants can more effectively use.

The current problem is that spreading manure directly in the field is more profitable for the farmer, as the recycled fertilizer market is still developing. The development of the market calls for clearer legislation, new research, and active operators in the market.

Factory location and project size play a key role

The profitability of biogas projects is greatly influenced by the location of the factory, which contributes both to the profitability of the raw materials and the end product logistics. A suitable industrial-scale user of biogas who commits to purchasing the end products of the factory in the area can also positively affect the convenience of the location.

Both with regard to small- and large-scale production, increasing the size of the project usually improves profitability on the whole. In practical terms, at the smaller scale, this means joint projects between several farms, and at the larger scale, the involvement of notable industrial operators in the projects.

The food sector in particular has been active with projects as of late. For example, Valio has started developing a carbon-neutral milk chain in cooperation with its producers. The involvement of industrial-scale operators usually also increases the interest of investors toward the projects.

The project should be developed with a focus on the value chain

Projects can involve, for example

  • an industrial enterprise, who supplies the raw material
  • a consultant / design expert
  • a biogas plant operator
  • an operator who purchases the main product and
  • a possible operator who processes the side products.

In this case, the project is developed with a focus on the value chain, which makes it possible to demonstrate the benefits more comprehensively.

One possible developmental direction is for individual projects to be compiled as part of a more extensive project portfolio at as early a stage as possible. Such a model would call for an operator who would focus on the subject, be responsible for the development of the project, construction, or maintenance as well as the coordination of financing. The operator could possibly also take the role of owner.

Thereby, individual projects would gain access to the operator’s competence, which in turn would speed up the start of the projects and reduce the financial risk as a result.

Profitability is largely determined in the planning phase

On one hand, the profitability of the projects can be influenced through technological development and, on the other hand, by seeking to account for the use of the factory already in the planning phase. Biogas plant technology is constantly developing, and as efficient and scalable technologies become available on the market, the profitability of the projects is improved both through decreased investment costs and more efficient operations.

It is important to note that most of the ways to affect the profitability of operations can only be utilized at the design stage. Due to this, it is important to sufficiently make use of available or external expertise in the planning phase.

Are you planning to launch a biogas project? Contact our experts >>

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.

Intelligent Engineering

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