EffiSludge for LIFE – a demonstration project to reduce carbon emissions from the treatment of pulp and paper mill effluent

Dr Francesco Ometto completed his ATBEST fellowship in March 2016. We catch up with him to find out how his career has progressed. 

After two years at Scandinavian Biogas as Experienced Research working on ATBEST, the company offered me the possibility to stay and take the lead of a new EU project submitted by Professor Jörgen Ejlertsson back in 2014. I could not refuse such a great opportunity.

EffiSludge for LIFE is a project that aims to demonstrate the advantage for operating conventional Activated Sludge Plants (ASP) at low sludge age. This is contrary to the standard operation, where high sludge ages are preferred to maintain low growth rates and therefore minimising the cost of sludge disposal.

In the project, an existing ASP located at the Norske Skog Skogn mill  - the largest producer of newsprint in Norway will be modified to achived the flexible operation required by EffiSludge conditions. Treating approximately 20 000 m3 of wastewater per day, the ASP currently operates with a sludge retention time close to 18 days and external nitrogen and phosphorus is added into the system to secure biomass growth.

The EffiSludge concept

By lowering the sludge retention time below 10 days, higher sludge production occurs and lower aeration is required per unit of treated wastewater. Lower the aeration needed, lower the energy demand and the related carbon emissions. Furthermore, to justify the higher amount of sludge produced, this will be processed onsite for biogas production capable, in principle, to satisfy part of the heat and power required by the mill.

A new integrated AD plant

In the specific context of the Skogn site, the produced excess activated sludge will be co-digested with fish waste adding to the stream of rejected water post anaerobic digestion a high load of nitrogen and phosphorus. Recirculated in the WAS system, such loading of nutrients could be able to offset current external dosing of nitrogen and phosphorus. With a capacity of 25 million (12.5 in the first year) cubic meters of liquefied biogas (LBG), the plant is currently under construction and it is expected to enter in operation by the end of 2017.

Construction site at Skogn. Francesco Ometto (left - Scandinavian Biogas Fuels) with Pål Nygård, (Biokraft)

Construction site at Skogn. Francesco Ometto (left – Scandinavian Biogas Fuels) with Pål Nygård, (Biokraft)

Linked to the work on seaweed digestion completed as ATBEST fellow, I am also involved in a parallel project, receiving financial contribution from the Research Council of Norway. The COMPLETE project investigates the possibility to integrate the new AD facility at Skogn with algae production – both seaweed and microalgae – to enhance an energy efficient biogas production by recirculation of nutrients and complete utilisation of resources (COMPLETE).

Existing Norske Skog facilities with an artistic representation of the under construction anaerobic digestion plant including possible future cultivation of seaweed.

Existing Norske Skog facilities with an artistic representation of the under construction anaerobic digestion plant including possible future cultivation of seaweed.

25 years of LIFE

The project is entitled of 1.8 million Euro as financial contribution from the European programme LIFE celebrating this year its 25th anniversary. Launched in 1992 and investing so far more than 3.4 billion Euro, LIFE is the main instrument for the European Commission to support the development of the action plan for Climate Change Mitigation and Environment. Coordinated by Scandinavian Biogas Fuels AB, EffiSludge for LIFE (LIFE14 CCM/SE/000221) is implemented in cooperation with Biokraft AS (Associated Partner) and Norske Skog Skogn. Started in September 2015, the project will last until December 2019.

Project website: http://scandinavianbiogas.com/effisludge/

Contact: francesco.ometto@scandinavianbiogas.com

Twitter: @EffiSludge

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A Seminar, Two Conferences and Two Secondments

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The last few months have been busy for one of the ATBEST fellows, as her time in the ATBEST project has come to an end. Paz Vilanova has attended to two conferences; the 8th International Conference on Waste Management and the Environment, and the ATBEST Conference: Biogas for the future. In addition, at the University Duisburg-Essen she gave a presentation in the seminar DAAD Alumni Project WE-Chain II “Water, Waste & Energy – Environmental and Supply Chain Management. Finally, Paz undertook two secondments, as part of the ATBEST program; one of the secondments was held in TH Köln (Campus Gummersbach) and and the other at the Environmental Research Institute of University College Cork. 

Seminar: DAAD Alumni Project WE-Chain II “Water, Waste & Energy – Environmental and Supply Chain Management

The University Duisburg- Essen held from 23 to 28 May 2016 the second alumni seminar project Water, Waste & Energy – Environmental and Supply Chain Management (WE-Chain II).



The seminar combined interdisciplinary former students and visiting scientists of German universities, coming from developing countries, to exchange knowledge and experiences on current issues of environmental and supply chain management in the water, waste and energy sector. There were participants from Africa, Asia and South America. The seminar involved topics such as water resources management, water and wastewater treatment, energy generation from waste, and waste removal and recycling.

On Friday 27 th Paz gave a presentation on “Bio-energy supply chain management”, her speech was on bioenergy supply chain management in general, and focussed deeply on Biogas supply chain management regarding biogas and digestate, main products generated throughout the biogas process.

8th International Conference on Waste Management and the Environment

The 8th International Conference on Waste Management and the Environment was held in Valencia, Spain, 7 – 9 June 2016, organised by the Wessex Institute.



The Conference brought together professionals, researchers, public institutions and governments, who exchanged information on solutions of problems related to the waste produced by modern society.

The papers presented at the conference covered a wide variety of topics which were classified in the following sessions: hazardous waste, reduce, recycle and recovery, health care impact, remote sensing, energy from waste, landfill optimisation and mining, pre-treatment of MSW (municipal solid waste), industrial waste management, and wastewater.

Paz Vilanova presented her paper ‘A review of the current digestate distribution models: storage and transport’, the first day of the conference. In her presentation, Paz talked about the current digestate distribution models in Europe and the difficulties of the management of the by-product.

Her paper can be found in the WIT Transactions on Ecology and the Environment, Volume 202, 2016. (http://www.witpress.com/elibrary/wit-transactions-on-ecology-and-the-environment/202/35486)



ATBEST Conference: Biogas for the future

The ATBEST international conference was hosted at the Linköping Konsert and Kongress from 7 to 8 September 2016.



The ATBEST international conference, with more than 90 participants, combined the presentations of the ATBEST fellows and speeches of stakeholders, public institutions representatives and researchers from the biogas sector.

The conference included sessions focussed on the potential of anaerobic digestion technologies and their applications, the importance of new feedstocks, innovative digestion conditions, process monitoring, and sustainable investments.

Paz Vilanova presented the first day in Session I: Feedstocks, Digestion and Process Monitoring, and her speech was focused on Digestate Processing. Paz chose the present topic for the conference, because digestate processing technologies can play an important role in the management of digestate by providing water reduction, nutrient management, proper storage, or enhance quality of the by-product.



Her presentation can be found at the ATBEST proceedings: http://www.atbest.eu/Conference/Proceedings

ATBEST secondments

During the ATBEST program, the researchers undertake secondments that allow knowledge exchange and developing collaborations between Universities and Institutes. This reason brought Paz to two different locations, Gummersbach and Cork. She spent 7 weeks at TH Köln (Campus Gummerbach) in Germany, and 5 weeks at the University College Cork Environmental Research Institute in Ireland.

Her first secondment started last July in Gummersbach, it was divided in two periods, first period was in July and August for 4 weeks, and second period was, after the ATBEST international conference and her second secondment, in November, for 3 weeks more.

In her stay, at the Automation and Industrial IT department, Paz got some advice in modelling and simulation to improve and implement the mathematical model that was developed during the project. As well she got some data from Metabolon to try to model its digestate distribution.

The following photos shows part of the installations in Metabolon, which is a waste disposal center considered as one of the most modern waste disposal sites in Europe and a reference facility for international experts.





For the second secondment Paz went to the University College Cork Environmental Research Institute (ERI).  In the course in the ERI, Paz worked with geographic information system softwares, such as QGIS and ArcGIS to develop a mapping analysis for North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany, at the Sustainable Energy & Environmental Engineering research group headed by Professor Jerry Murphy. She could get advice from Richard O’Shea, who has developed similar analysis for Ireland.



During her stay at ERI, Paz had the possibility to visit one of the ATBEST fellows at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority, which is the national body providing integrated research, advisory and training services to the agriculture and food industry and rural communities located in Dublin.




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UK- China workshop and Biogas developments in China

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Early Stage Researcher Jingxiao Liang from Queen’s University Belfast recently attended a workshop in her native China. Here, she shares her experiences from her visit….

A three-day UK-China workshop funded by The Newton Fund and the National Natural Science Foundation of China for early career researchers on advanced Technologies for energizing sustainable urban transport was held in Beijing, China, from 16th to 18th May 2016. The event was co-sponsored by Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT), a prestigious Chinese university and Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), one of the UK’s leading research-based universities. Professor Patrick Johnston, President and Vice Chancellor of QUB and Professor Hu Haiyan, President of BIT both give speech at the opening ceremony on 16th May, encouraging collaboration between QUB and BIT. The workshop served as a networking event between researchers in China and the UK, laying a solid foundation for further cooperation in sustainable energy(1).

Figure 1: Participants at the Uk-China Workshop

Figure 1: Participants at the Uk-China Workshop

Around 60 lecturers and scientists attended this workshop; 21 of them were from the UK, including representatives from Queen’s University Belfast, Newcastle University, Aston University, Cardiff University, University of Aberdeen and Ulster University. The remainder were researchers from China, including those from Beijing Institute of Technology, Harbin Institute of Technology, XI’an Jiaotong University, Shanghai Jiaotong University, Chongqing University, Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Biomass Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences among others.

On the third day about writing high quality proposals, given by Professor David Rooney from QUB, who was also one of the organisers. Nearly one third of researchers who attended are working in the area of biomass and biofuels.

Figure 2: Prof. Rooney leads a discussion group

Figure 2: Prof. Rooney leads a discussion group


China is an agricultural country, with half of its population living in the rural area. As a country, they are facing serious environmental pollutions and more energy needs than ever before. Developing a biogas industry is a perfect way to help overcome these problems.


From statistics produced by the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture, in 2015 the annual biogas production was 2.258 billion m3, with potential biogas production over 200 billion m3. The electricity production from biogas was 467 GWh, enough to power 1.92 million households. Chinese biogas plants are divided into four types, dependent on production:

a) super large-scale, daily production over 5000 m3

b) large-scale, daily production between 500 to 5000 m

c) medium-scale, daily production between 150 to 500 m3  

d) small-scale, daily production below 150 m3.

There are 6713 super large-scale and large-scale biogas plants, 10087 medium-scale biogas plants and 86346 small-scale biogas plants, at the same time, more large-scale biogas plants are under construction.

It was a great pleasure for me to get an invitation from HongChuan Xin, who works for Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technolog (QIBEET), part of the Chinese Academy of Science. He introduced me to a group of experts with many years’ experience in biogas separation and compression.

Figure 3: Presenting to QIBEET fellows

Figure 3: Presenting to QIBEET fellows

At the meeting, I presented the ATBEST project which the group was very interested in.  The QIBEET fellows also presented their research. Shengjun Luo, Senior Engineer, is working on methane hydrate – a mixture of methane and water under high pressure and low temperature. Three of his PhD students are working on using surfactants, graphene and carbon nanotubes as activators and they have achieved significant progress in this area which will hopefully lead to new technologies for methane compression into a more convenient for long-distance transport.

Figure 4: Getting a tour of the lab from Senior Engineer Luo

Figure 4: Getting a tour of the lab from Senior Engineer Luo

Engineer Gang Guo’s focus is on engineering design and modeling. He has made a lab-scale biogas upgrading unit (Figure 4); consisting of two parts, an absorber on the right and a scrubber on the left, it can deal with a throughput of 1 m3 biogas per day.

When they showed me their lab, I am surprised and impressed by their creativity – they designed most of their reactors themselves. Below are two of their reactors, Generation 2 and Generation 3 (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Reactors - Generation 2 and 3

Figure 5: Reactors – Generation 2 and 3

Compared to natural gas imported from aboard, the price of biogas as energy is not yet competitive in China. The Chinese government have provided financial support to sustainable energy for years; however, as opposed to the European situation, the government subsidies to biogas tend to favour large-scale plants instead of small ones. This was not always the case; for instance, back in 2005, farmers obtained ¥2000 from local government when they built a household biogas plant, with total expense of ¥3000. This policy was abandoned as it turned out these household biogas plants did not last long, as they were typically poorly maintained and have low efficiency.

By 2015, the National Development and Reform Commission had issued a biogas transformation and upgrading program, investing ¥2 billion to support 386 large-scale biogas projects (collectively have a daily biogas production of over 500 m3), and 28 super large-scale biogas projects (with a total daily biogas production of over 10 000 m3).

Table 1: List of 28 super large-scale biogas projects supported by government in 2015



Project title

Total investment


Government investment


Daily biogas production

(10,000 m3 )

1 Hebei Gucheng biomass 8,922 3,934 1.500
2 Hebei Sanhe biomass 14,100 4,500 1.800
3 Neimenggu Balinyouqite biomass 18,656 5,000 3.000
4 Neimenggu Wengniuteqi biomass 18,151 5,000 3.000
5 Neimenggu Wuyuan biogas 10,125 4,050 2.700
6 Liaoning Liaoning biogas 17,233 5,000 1.800
7 Jilin Huadian biogas 8,930 5,000 2.190
8 Jilin Jilin biogas 20,814 5,000 5.500
9 Heilongjiang Baoquanling agricultural  organic waste utilization 15,277 4,000 1.600
10 Jiangsu Dafeng biogas 4,834 3,000 1.200
11 Anhui Maanshan biogas 7,505 3,000 1.200
12 Shandong Leling biogas 9,800 5,000 2.470
13 Shandong Penglai biogas upgrading and compression 9,506 5,000 4.200
14 Shandong Yinan biogas 6,127 3,000 2.000
15 Henan Biogas utilization 10,047 3,630 1.620
16 Hubei Biogas and organic fertilizer 10,375 3,750 1.500
17 Hubei Zhongkai biogas 11,763 4,500 1.730
18 Hunan Xiangcun biogas 10,868 4,950 1.980
19 Hunan Yueyang biogas 6,845 2,700 1.020
20 Guangxi Muti-feedstock biogas 12,677 5,000 2.000
21 Hainan Chengmaishenzhou biogas 5,386 3,375 1.350
22 Sichuan Rongxianwangjia biogas 7,202 3,000 1.200
23 Sichuan Organic waste utillization and biogas 10,416 5,000 2.880
24 Guizhou Maotai biogas 19,259 5,000 3.230
25 Yunnan Erhailiuyu biogas 10,513 5,000 3.000
26 Gansu Gaotai biogas 12,045 5,000 2.000
27 Ningxia Zhongwei 6,250 2,500 0.954
28 Xinjiang Hutubi biogas 10,850 4,970 2.300
Total: 314,501 118,859 60.920

 Luo’s group have been involved with the design of Leling biogas plant (Number 12 in Table 1). Their role was with the biogas upgrading unit, by designing it and building it themselves, they were able to save approximately 40% on the cost they were quoted by a Swedish manufacturer. Chinese engineers have good skills in the production of infrastructure such as digestion tanks and scrubber columns; but for process items such as compressors and CHP engines they cannot yet match the efficiency of those produced by more developed nations.

Hopefully the links made by events such as this and through the ATBEST project, the Chinese biogas industry will make strategic links with Western supplier; allowing biogas to make a significant contribution to China’s energy provision in the future.


(1)     http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/regional/2016-05/17/content_25323831.html

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Modern Marco Polos: ATBEST secondment in China

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In this blog, Early Stage Researcher Fabio De Rosa from QUB provides details of his recent secondment in China

Chinese philosopher Laozi used to say that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. In our case it started with a very long flight.

Figure 1 – It’s a long way from Belfast to China

Figure 1 – It’s a long way from Belfast to China

It was November 2015 when Miss Natasha McKee, Mr Ahmed Ibrahim Osman Ahmed and myself left Northern Ireland to join our colleague Ms Jing-xiao Liang and Professor David Rooney in the most populous country in the world. The two destinations of this 3-weeks long adventure were the capital, Beijing, and the city of Harbin, famous for its International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival.

Figure 2 – Entrance of the Beijing Institute of Technology

Figure 2 – Entrance of the Beijing Institute of Technology

Figure 3 – Harbin Institute of Technology’s campus and the Dark Hedges in Northern Ireland, made famous by the TV series Games of Thrones. Can you see the resemblance?

Figure 3 – Harbin Institute of Technology’s campus and the Dark Hedges in Northern Ireland, made famous by the TV series Games of Thrones. Can you see the resemblance?

We were hosted in both cities by Professor Kening Sun and his team. Professor Sun is the dean of the School of Chemical Engineering and Environment in Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT) (Figure 2), and the director of the Institute of Basic and Interdisciplinary Science and Institute of Chemical and Energy Materials in Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT) (Figure 3). He mainly carries out research on solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC) in the low-temperature range, lithium ion batteries, super-capacitors and other research into electrochemical energy storage systems.

Sad but true, the first thing a stranger notices in China is the infamous air pollution. Experts agree by saying that breathing Beijing air for a day is equal to smoking 40 cigarettes [1]. Since I am not even a smoker, I tried to wear a mask as much as possible when outdoor, as many Chinese and foreigners do (Figure 4).

Figure 4 – In case you wonder: no, that is not fog

Figure 4 – In case you wonder: no, that is not fog

The timing of the secondment was not particularly lucky, considering that a red alert about air quality, the highest possible warning level, was issued on 7th December 2015 and lasted until the end of the week. After some limits were placed on car use and some factories were ordered to stop operations [2], the difference in the air quality was quite noticeable (Figure 5 and Figure 8).

Figure 5 – Before and after the red alert day in December 2015 from the same window

Figure 5 – Before and after the red alert day in December 2015 from the same window

After a first-hand experience of what heavy pollution means, China’s contemporary goal possibly made even more sense to me: change the coal-based industry exploiting either the rich natural gas resources of the country in the Heilongjiang Province [3] or renewable biogas. Both ways could effectively minimize the difference between power supply and demand, reduce at the same time the carbon, nitrogen and sulphur emissions from power stations and houses, and ultimately mitigate the greenhouse effect and air pollution.

Despite what one might think, Chinese government invested heavily to support the biogas field development starting from early 2000s, and by the end of 2020 the plan is to have around 80 million household plants with an annual production of 45 billion m3 [4].

Figure 6 – micro Combined Heat and Power generation unit
Figure 6 – micro Combined Heat and Power generation unit

The potentials for the biogas market in China are huge and one possible application of SOFC for natural gas/biogas exploitation is in micro Combined Heat and Power generation unit (micro-CHP). Such a system is depicted in Figure 6 and allows for decentralized power generation in rural areas, combined heat and power generation in the 1-3 kW range with higher efficiency, carbon savings in the case of renewable biogas since no fossil fuel is employed and creation of smart grids, which are eligible for feed-in tariffs from the local government.

These are the reasons why for the whole three weeks we worked on the development of a heat-integrated natural gas/biogas reformer, able to produce 8 slm of H2 to feed a SOFC-based micro-CHP unit designed in HIT. The process involved the formulation and characterization of new catalytic materials via TEM, XPS, BET, XRD, and the likes.

At the same time we had a chance to improve our knowledge about fuel cells, batteries, Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) systems for nitrogen oxides abatement in stationary applications and were involved in the preparation and testing of catalysts for the hydro-desulphurization of crude oil.

Apart from pure science, it was interesting to discuss about the ATBEST project and the biogas field in China with local experts like Dr. Xin Hongchuan, associate professor of Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology (QIBEBT), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

What I have noticed is that in BIT there is a great interest in teaching programs in English, and in welcoming Queen’s University Belfast students. From 2003 to 2014 the School of Chemical Engineering and Environment sent nearly 100 graduates to QUB to finish their master’s degree, and 13 of them obtained doctor’s degree. More than 30 people participated in bilateral visits and teachers exchanges [5]. These statistics clearly have to be updated after our journey.

President and vice-chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast, Patrick Johnston, visited Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT) too on August 2014 and reviewed the cooperation history between two universities [6].

The far-east represents one of the largest markets in the world for international students and Queen’s is expanding also in Shenyang through the China Queen’s College, also known as China Medical University – The Queen’s University of Belfast Joint College. Professor David Rooney is the director of research at the Centre for the Theory and Application of Catalysis (CenTACat) in QUB and the vice-dean of the new college.

The new-born college represents a great opportunity for Queen’s to enhance the University’s profile through a physical presence in China, it is its first foreign joint campus abroad and the students are taught pharmaceutical science jointly by staff from Queen’s and the China Medical University, one of China’s top ranked universities for health sciences [7].

Figure 7 – From left to right: Ms Jing-xiao Liang, myself, Mr Tim Losty, Professor David Rooney, Mr Ahmed Ibrahim Osman Ahmed and Miss Natasha McKee

Figure 7 – From left to right: Ms Jing-xiao Liang, myself, Mr Tim Losty, Professor David Rooney, Mr Ahmed Ibrahim Osman Ahmed and Miss Natasha McKee

During our stay in the capital of the world’s fastest growing economy we could not miss an interesting meeting with Mr Tim Losty, Counsellor for Northern Ireland Bureau in China (Figure 7). He was previously operative in Washington, USA, and he had his first contacts with China back in 2012 when he helped to organise the visit of Chinese Vice-Premier Madame Liu Yandong to Northern Ireland.

The Bureau’s goals are to develop and maintain effective relationships with the government of the People’s Republic of China, increase trade and investment between Northern Ireland and China, strengthen bilateral Science and technology collaboration and encourage Chinese students to enrol at NI universities. [8]

It might seem an easy task, but it is not. According to Mr Losty, most of the time western people don’t know enough about China and its different culture. Moreover the language barrier and the massive bureaucracy that surrounds getting products into market cannot be forgotten [9].

Losty agreed that increasing trade and students exchanges between Northern Ireland and China is the way to go, enhancing cooperation in culture, sports and tourism and promoting the understanding of Chinese culture and language. [10]

Language is actually an important barrier and from this point of view China reminded me of Italy: except for the academic environment and the smart clerks from the silk market, common people do not speak English at all. Luckily Ms Liang was with us most of the time, teaching us how to pronounce correctly a few words like 牛肉饺子 (Niúròu jiǎozi). Should I be alone again in China, at least I will be able to enjoy delicious beef dumplings!

The food was great indeed, although quite spicy sometimes, but Chinese hospitality is even nicer. We were treated absolutely well, never left alone and, we found out with great surprise, that Chinese people can be very sociable, especially when it comes to toasting!

Overall it has been a great experience getting exposed to a different culture and scientific community which in the end is not that far from us, just as far as a long flight can be.

Figure 8 – The amazing great wall of China. No pollution over there

Figure 8 – The amazing Great Wall of China. No pollution there!


[1] – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3201954/Breathing-Beijing-s-air-equivalent-smoking-FORTY-cigarettes-day-Smog-map-China-reveals-shocking-extent-pollution.html

[2] – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-35026363

[3] – https://fuelcellsworks.com/archives/2010/10/10/harbin-institute-of-technology-sun-kening-research-team-successfully-developed-low-temperature-solid-oxide-fuel-cell-2/

[4] – https://www.dbfz.de/fileadmin/user_upload/Vortraege/BiogasWorld2014/02_Jiming.pdf

[5] – http://english.bit.edu.cn/NewsEvents/BITNews/100433.htm

[6] – http://english.bit.edu.cn/NewsEvents/BITNews/104808.htm

[7] – http://thepienews.com/news/queens-university-belfast-to-launch-china-campus/

[8] – https://www.ofmdfmni.gov.uk/articles/ni-bureau-china

[9] – http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/business/big-interview/people-here-speak-from-the-heart-the-chinese-appreciate-that-34227710.html

[10] – http://english.cri.cn/6826/2013/05/14/2702s764761.htm

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And then there were 13 :(


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As she reaches the end of her ATBEST fellowship, Experienced Researcher Dr Laura Gil Carrera from Gas Networks Ireland reflects on her experiences in the project.

On the 3rd of November 2015 another ATBEST meeting took place in Belfast, however this one was different for me;  it was my last meeting with a great group of people. I still remember the first meeting two years ago when I walked into the Council Chamber in Queen’s University, which was filled with incredibly qualified individuals from around the world. We all presented our projects in that room crowded with strangers at that time, who became friends along the way. From the very first day with ATBEST, everyone welcomed all fellows as members of the team and genuinely expected us to make a contribution.


6Over the last couple of years, I’ve been working on the project “Developing strategies to facilitate the integration of biogas into the existing gas network”, in another words investigating the optimal model for rolling out a biomethane industry in Ireland. I hit the ground running, working on data collection and evaluation of concepts and literature to get a good flavour of the biogas industry in Ireland.


My first year was full of work on Irish ground, from literature reviews, several workshops all over the country, meetings with biogas producers, potential producers, academics, and politicians in order to develop strategies that suit the Irish context for biogas utilization. Besides biogas, I got an insight into the natural gas business and energy markets, which is essential for the future integration of renewable gas into the energy system in Ireland.

3This year has been extremely challenging and exciting, trying to manage numerous field trips and getting my analysis and models done before November. During 2015 I had the opportunity to attend a few conferences across Europe and present my work at them. Feedbacks and engagement at Green Gas Research Outlook, REGATEC and Progress in Biomethane Mobility were very fruitful to achieve successful outcomes in my project.  I also got the great chance to collaborate with Scandinavian Biogas, QUB and UDE through secondments which broad my knowledge and gave me hands on experience, not only within my field of expertise but also in the anaerobic digestion itself, operation of biogas plants, upgrading plants,  biomethane logistics and application of biogas in liquid fuel production.

4Both the tight collaboration with our ATBEST partners and the intensive exchange with peer experts from all over Europe helped me to get a better technical and economic understanding and develop models incorporating novel innovative technologies and novel biogas substrates to grow the Irish biogas industry.


5But the work—meaningful as it was—was only a small part of what made my experience so special. Everyone I met, from ATBEST fellows, project coordinators, GNI colleagues, associate partners… helped me grow both as an employee and a person.


I just want to thank all ATBEST community!!Thanks for two great years!! See you soon! :)


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A new AD plant up and running in Sweden!

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Since the visit by the ATBEST Summer School in June, a lot has happened near Stockholm at the new Scandinavian Biogas plant in Södertör (Figure 1). The plant is now in operation and the start-up period will be soon completed.

Figure 1: Main Digester

Figure 1: Main Digester

During 2016 the plant will produce 14 million Nm3 raw biogas, treating up to 150 000 ton of organic household waste per year. The plan counts on 2 primary digesters and 1 secondary digestion unit (Figure 2).


Figure 2: Combined secondary digester and gasholder

Onsite upgrading of the raw gas by PSA-technology (active coal filter) will give about 8 million Nm3 a year of vehicle fuel that will be transported out of the plant using mobile solutions for compressed gas (Figure 3).

Figure 3 – Compressed gas container.

Figure 3 – Compressed gas container.

In Sweden biogas is seen as a great resource able to support the increasing demand of vehicles fuels for car, busses, tracks and potentially ships. As part of ongoing national and international projects on renewable energy, a few additional plants are expected to be constructed in in the near future. In this context, high is the interest on alternative biomasses and process optimisation. For instance, the Swedish Biogas Research Centre (BRC), where Scandinavian Biogas Fuels AB and Linköping University play a key role, is currently evaluating the feasibility of including forestry waste and aquatic resources (algae, fish waste and ascidians) on the biogas production chain.

Francesco Ometto, Scandinavian Biogas Fuels

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Leading the way with creativity and innovation – ATBEST Summer School in Sweden

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In this update, Queen’s University researcher Jing-xiao Liang gives an overview of the 2nd ATBEST Summer School held in Linkӧping, Sweden.  

As ATBEST fellows, we not only focus on experimental work in the lab, but also concern ourselves with real world issues and exploring advanced biogas technologies is one of our goals. In June 2015, we visited Sweden, the first country in Europe to meet the renewable energy targets set by EU for 2020 for our second summer school.

Fig 1: ATBEST fellows with their hosts at Linköping University

Fig 1: ATBEST fellows with their hosts at Linköping University

The EU biogas production

In 2013, there was over 14500 biogas plants in Europe, with an energy output of around 13.4 MTOE. This is an impressive two digit growth (10.2% up on 2012) since 2012 (EurObserv’ER 2014) 1 KTOE = 11.630 GWh

Fig 2a: Top 12 European countries by 2013 biogas production

Fig 2a: Top 12 European countries by 2013 biogas production

Biomethane production in EU

Biomethane production is gaining popularity primarily with the countries in the European Union because it enables them to reduce reliance on natural gas imports. On the basis of various studies, at least 258 biomethane plants were in service in the European Union at the end of June 2014 in just 12 member countries. (EurObserv’ER 2014)

Fig 2b: Numbers of biomethane plants by European country (June 2014)

Fig 2b: Numbers of biomethane plants by European country (June 2014)

Since the 1973 oil crisis, Sweden’s ambitious goal of reducing their reliance on fossil fuels as the primary source of power was finally achieved, with more than 50% of energy now being produced by sources of renewable energy.

In Sweden, biogas has been produced and used with sewage treatment plants since the 1960s, (Svenska Biogasföreningen, 2004). Biogas has been used as a vehicle fuel since the early 1990s. (Energimyndigheten, 2011b).(1)

Fig 3: Overview of the biogas system applied in Sweden

Fig 3: Overview of the biogas system applied in Sweden

Nowadays, Sweden has a well-balanced fleet with 36,520 light duty vehicles, 1,530 buses and 550 HD trucks. One unique fact about Sweden is that even without access to a natural gas pipeline system (except a 300 km stretch along the southwest coast), they have managed to build up a good refuelling network in the southern half of the country, and are now expanding into the northern part. At the end of 2011 there were over 130 public filling stations and there are more than a dozen cities where the bus fleets completely rely on biomethane. (2)

Fig 4: Biogas filling station in Stockholm

Fig 4: Biogas filling station in Stockholm

Sweden makes up 10.2% of Europe, with a population of approximately 9.7 million and 20 people/km2. In 2012 Sweden was ranked 8th in patent applications per GDP for the top 10 origins, followed by South Korea, Japan, China, Germany, Switzerland, France and United States. The first day in Linköping University we learned about IPR (Intelligent Property Protection) & Commercial awareness from Arne Jacobsson. 

Fig 5: Arne Jacobsson delivering a lecture to ATBEST summer school

Fig 5: Arne Jacobsson delivering a lecture to ATBEST summer school

1. As researchers, we should be aware of how Intellectual Properties can be protected and how to gain value from having them. After we publish our paper we should consider applying for a patent.

2. Patent protection is territorial – a Swedish patent is only valid in Sweden and it can be maintained for 20 years. If the patent relates to a medicinal or plant protection product, the term of the patent can in some cases be extended by five years, using supplementary protection.

3. Professor’s privilege, researchers and academics working in colleges and universities in Sweden automatically own the right to inventions and copyright works that they produce.

4. Useful patent websites:

European patents: www.espacenet.com

US patents: www.vspto.gov

Sweden is one of the world leaders in recycling, with less than one per cent of Sweden’s household waste ending up in rubbish dumps. On the second day of the summer school, we visited a municipal biogas plant in Linköping – Svensk Biogas Tekniska Verken.

Fig 6: ATBEST fellows at Tekniska Verken

Fig 6: ATBEST fellows at Tekniska Verken











More than 90 percent of the households in Linköping are heated by district heating from Tekniska Verken. They have around 260,000 private and corporate clients who benefit from their products and services which include electricity, water, district heating, district cooling, waste management, broadband and biogas.

Fig 7: ATBEST fellows at Svensk Biogas

Fig 7: ATBEST fellows at Svensk Biogas

Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA)

LCA is a technique used to assess the environmental impact associated with all the stages of a product’s life from beginning to the end.

LCAs can help avoid a narrow outlook on environmental concerns by:

  • Compiling an inventory of relevant energy and material inputs and environmental releases;
  • Evaluating the potential impacts associated with identified inputs and releases;
  • Interpreting the results to help make a more informed decision.(3)

Fig 8: Life-cycle assessment workshop

Fig 8: Life-cycle assessment workshop

Site-visit of Scandinavian biogas at Sofielund and Henriksdal

As an ATBEST partner, our schedule on the third day was to visit Scandinavian Biogas, which has become one of Sweden’s largest private producers of biogas since it was founded in 2005. They focus on operating and optimizing industrial scale biogas plants.

Fig 9: ATBEST fellows at Scandinavian biogas

Fig 9: ATBEST fellows at Scandinavian biogas

Biogas projects are managed in close cooperation with private and municipal stakeholders in the Nordic region, particularly in east central Sweden, which is currently the company’s main market.

Fig 10: High-pressure biogas container

Fig 10: High-pressure biogas container

The Nobel Prize is another great example of innovation in Sweden and we were able to visit the Nobel Prize Museum in Stockholm. Between 1901 and 2014, the Nobel Prizes and the Prize in Economic Sciences were awarded 567 times to 889 people and organizations to celebrate exceptional people from around the world. As Marie Curie Fellows, we learnt that Marie Curie was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903. She was also the first person to be awarded two Nobel Prizes, as she was also awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911.

Fig 11: ATBEST fellows at the Nobel Prize Museum

Fig 11: ATBEST fellows at the Nobel Prize Museum


(1) http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S095965261400568X

(2) http://www.ngvaeurope.eu/sweden

(3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life-cycle_assessment


And so we are just over half way there…….

ATBEST logo resized

With the ATBEST project having reached the halfway point, Project Coordinator Sam McCloskey reflects on the progress and achievements to date.

What lessons have we learned along the ATBEST project journey and what have we got to look forward to in the future?  We have just received our formal feedback from the EU Project Officer from the project mid-term review that took place in Essen, Germany in May 2015. It is a credit to the Project Manager, all of the ATBEST fellows and their Academic Supervisors that feedback was very positive. Let’s summarise the achievements to date:

  • 12 Early Stage Researchers in post – all studying for PhD’s
  • 2 Late Stage Researchers – linked to industry
  • 8 Project Partners in 4 countries (5 Academic Institutions and 3 Industry partners)
    • UK, Ireland, Sweden, Germany
    • Three regional meetings – Belfast, Cork and Essen
    • Two summer schools – Germany & Sweden
    • Dissemination activity including articles, events and posters
    • A wide range of training activity for the Fellows
    • Secondments to industry are now taking place



The research projects follow the life cycle of biogas production from optimum feedstock in to the biogas plant through to maximising the output and use of the biogas product. Projects cover a range of solutions to issues that industry is facing including the use of novel probes, biogas for transportation, the gas grid, fuel cells, storage and logistics. So far there have been a number of notable scientific highlights including:

  • That the addition of hydrogen from surplus renewable energy production increases the methane yield from mono-digestion of grass silage (Markus Voelklein & Professor Jerry Murphy)
  • Methane production from co-digestion of grass silage and cattle slurry compares well against mono-digestion with grass silage (Himanshu & Padraig O’Kiely)
  • Miniature probes can provide online monitoring solutions to AD plant and the ability to detect unstable conditions within AD plant early (Professor Dr Michael Bongards. Dr Christian Wolff & Rob Eccleston)



Going back to basics then, the original aim of the project was “to develop new and innovative technologies for the biogas sector, to enable Europe to implement its Energy 2020 strategy and to address the challenges of increasing energy demand and energy generation costs.” Is the project on target to achieving those aims?


Well, the ATBEST research puts biogas production right at the heart of the three pillars of sustainability, where traditionally it has been viewed as environmentally acceptable there has been scepticism over the social and commercial viability of large scale biogas production. The project aligns with EU biogas policy in the SET Plan and the EU 20/20/20 vision and specifically focuses on maximising the sustainability of biogas production, enhancing the commercial value of the biogas product and at the same time, providing jobs and opportunities not just for the 14 researchers but for the industry as a whole.


However, there is plenty of work still to be done in the remaining 18 months of the ATBEST project and the team has much to look forward to. Plans are being put in place to road map knowledge / technology transfer from each of the research projects with potential pathways to product and service commercialisation now being developed. There is also the November 2015 meeting in Belfast followed up by the summer school in Northern Ireland and our final conference in Linkӧping in Autumn 2016.

Well done to all the ATBEST team for the successes so far and keep up the great work!

Sam McCloskey (ATBEST Coordinator)

EU Flag with wording



Biogas – a way of storing renewable electricity?

ATBEST logo resized


Many of the technological barriers to producing renewable electricity have now been overcome, with methods to harness wind, solar and tidal power now established, but storage methods are required in order to improve the utilisation of this energy. In this blog, Nikoletta Giantsiou, ATBEST researcher at University Duisburg-Essen, discusses a method of using biogas to do so. 

Anaerobic digestion (AD) is a well – established biological process which results in organic pollution reduction and bioenergy production. During the process organic wastes are degraded with simultaneous energy production in the form of biogas. Biogas is a mixture of mostly methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2). Usually, biogas consists of 50 -70% CH4 and 30-50% CO2. Carbon dioxide in the produced biogas is inert as a fuel and dilutes its’ energy content.  The low energy density of biogas renders biogas an inefficient energy carrier for long – distance transportation and energy storage. The low CH4 content limits the application of biogas. Currently, the most common utilization route is for electricity production, often combined with utilization of the excess heat (CHP units). In worst cases, biogas is burned through a flare.

Figure 1: Biogas reactor with emergency flare

Figure 1: Biogas reactor with emergency flare

Alternatively, after the removal of CO2, biogas can be upgraded to natural gas quality. CH4 content higher than 90% can increase the heating value giving more utilization possibilities as a renewable energy source. Upgraded biogas (biomethane) can be used as vehicle fuel, or it can be injected into the existing natural gas grid transporting biomethanefrom rural areas, where typically biogas plants are located, to urban areas where consumer density is higher.This widens up the opportunities in distant energy consumption locations.

The most common methods of biogas upgrading include water scrubbing, pressure swing adsorption, polyglycol adsorption, membrane separation, cryogenic separation and chemical treatment.

Figure 2: Membrane separation (http://www.heatandpowerltd.co.uk)

Figure 2: Membrane separation (http://www.heatandpowerltd.co.uk)

Generally, these methods are performed outside the anaerobic reactor and require investments in external equipment.Therefore, the cost is relatively high.The main disadvantage is that small amounts of CH4 are also removed, which can increase greenhouse gas emissions.

To circumvent these disadvantages, biological conversion of CO2 to CH4 for biogas upgrading can be achieved. In anaerobic digesters, hydrogen can be converted to CH4 by the action of hydrogenotrophic methanogens according to the following Equation:

CO2 + 4 H2 → CH4 + 2 H2O       ∆H = −165.0 kJ/mol

This is the Sabatier reaction in which microorganisms can bind CO2 with H2 and convert them to CH4. Carbon dioxide is already consisted in biogas.

Figure 3: Sabatier reaction

Figure 3: Sabatier reaction

Nevertheless, in order for the whole process to be considered as renewable, the H2 needed for the biogas upgrading should also be provided by renewable sources.  Wind and bioenergy are two of the most promising renewable energy sources.

The power production from wind mills vary due to weather conditions. Electricity demand vary as well.In times of overproduction a high percentage of the electricity from wind is judged to be a surplus. The potential is not fully utilized. Water electrolysis is an attractive way of exploiting excess electricity from wind mills, in order to produce hydrogen.

Electrolysis is an electrochemical process which takes place by conducting electricity via electrodes through water. The two electrodes, the anode and the cathode, have a positive and negative charge, respectively. The charge difference results in an ionization of the water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen ions. At the negatively charged electrode, the cathode, the positively charged hydrogen ions (H+) gather. At the positively charged electrode, the anode, the negatively charged oxygen ions (O2-) gather.

Figure 4: Electrolysis of wind production (http://www.hydrogennet.dk)

Figure 4: Electrolysis of wind production (http://www.hydrogennet.dk)


The produced hydrogen can then be stored in the existing gas network or used for fuel cell vehicles. However, hydrogen is a very light gas and contains much lower volumetric energy content compared to CH4. Storage costs of hydrogen are consequently high. As an alternative, hydrogen may be used for upgrading biogas to natural gas quality and thus making it storable in the gas network.

With our research project we intent to use the excess energy of renewable sources such as wind mills in order to produce high CH4 content biogas. That way, in times of energy oversupply the excessive energy could be converted into a storable gas.

More specifically, our objectives are:

- supply hydrogen to the organic waste feeding stream of the anaerobic digester with the goal to convert carbon dioxide from biogas into methane in situ.

- modify the anaerobic configuration so that H2 is used to upgrade the biogas efficiency, and to

- optimize H2 consumption by the hydrogenotrophic methanogens in anaerobic reactors.

Figure 5: Use of surplus electricity to biogas plants via hydrogen

Figure 5: Use of surplus electricity to biogas plants via hydrogen

With in situ biogas upgrading an amount of CO2 can be consumed, thereby, result in higher methane biogas content. This partial CO2removal can decrease the costs of upgrading biogas to natural gas quality. Finally, possible unconverted hydrogen mixed with methane, would improve the combustion properties of biogas as fuel. The storage cost of methane is lower compared to H2, due to its’ higher boiling point and higher volumetric energy density. Additionally, a number of countries already have natural gas infrastructure, which would make distribution of upgraded biogas feasible.

Overall, the expected outcome of this project is to implement an efficient process for converting the excessive renewable energy into CH4. This process will result in increased net CH4 production for biogas plants, decreased biogas upgrading costs and the possible use of biogas as an alternative to natural gas. The main benefit will be the use of the existing infrastructure system for storing electricity.


  1. [Online]http://www.hydrogennet.dk/
  2. [Online]http://vav.griffel.net/filer/C_SGC2013-270.pdf
  3. A Single-Culture Bioprocess of Methanothermobacterthermautotrophicus to Upgrade Digester Biogas by CO2-to-CH4 Conversion with H2, Matthew R. MartinJeffrey J. Fornero, Rebecca StarkLaurens MetsLargus T. Angenent, Archaea, (2013), doi: 10.1155/2013/157529
  4. The Bio-Sabatier-Process and its potential for the electric industry, Dr. Ing. S. Schmuck, MSc.; Dipl.-Ing. B. Keser; Dr.-Ing. T. Mietzel, ICCE-2010