Monthly Archives: July 2015

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

References:

(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…….

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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

 

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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)

 

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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?

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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.

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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)

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