Category Archives: Researcher Update

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).

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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.

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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)

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ATBEST Conference: Biogas for the future

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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!

References

[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.

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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.

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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).

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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

References:

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

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

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

 

Biogas – a way of storing renewable electricity?

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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.

References:

  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

 

 

 

 

 

“Where ideas come to life” – visit to Linkӧping

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“Där idéer blir verklighet” – “Where ideas come to life”. This motto of city Linkӧping has been particularly appropriate since the formation (1975) of the University of Linkӧping (LIU) that is one of the ATBEST collaborators (from 2013). Linkӧping itself is a calm, average-sized city (ca. 150,000 inhabitants and 42 km2) in the south of Sweden. It has many interesting places to see – such as the locks of Berg on the Gӧta Kanal or Gamla Linkӧping (Old Linkӧping; fig. 1 and 2).

Fig 1: Old Linkӧping

Fig 1: Old Linkӧping

Fig 2: Old Linkӧping

Fig 2: Old Linkӧping

Linkӧping, like the rest of the country, tries to be environmental-friendly and close to the nature. This is reflected in the fact that Swedish establishment to produce 50% of the whole energy from renewables by 2020 has already been reached. Of course, some of this green-energy is produced from the biogas. Sweden has 264 (year 2013) full-scale biogas plants, amongst which the most abundant (more than 50% of all digesters) are reactors operating with sewage sludge as a feedstock. All reactors produce 1,686 GWh/year (data from 2013). Biogas in Sweden is mostly used as a vehicle fuel (>50%; ca. 200 filling stations – year 2012) and for heating purposes (>30%; year 2012 and 2013). Due to very beneficial financial policy (i.e. no energy tax or financial support for manure-operating anaerobic digesters), there is a huge possibility for the development of energy production from biogas in Sweden. It was proposed that the energy production development will have been 1-3 TWh (in the worst scenario), 58 TWh, or 5-10 TWh (in the best scenario) by 2030. This is very promising forecast.

Fig. 3. Full-scale anaerobic digesters in Sweden (divided by type of the feedstock) (2013; data from: Statens energimyndighet and Energigas Sverige (2014))

Fig. 3. Full-scale anaerobic digesters in Sweden (divided by type of the feedstock) (2013; data from: Statens energimyndighet and Energigas Sverige (2014)) 

Recently, myself (Joanna Grebosz, QUB) and my supervisor – Professor Michael Larkin (QUB) have had a pleasure to visit Linkӧping city for a two days. We loved it from the first sight, especially because the city welcomed us with a very warm and sunny weather as well as very friendly people (most speaking fluent English everywhere – impressive!). During our first day of the visit, we met researchers (fig. 4 and 7) connected with Linkӧping University (Annika Bjorn, Luka Safaric, Bo Svensson, Carina Sundberg, Sepehr Shakeri Yekta, Magali Genero Marti, Eva-Maria Ekstrand and Anna Karlsson) and Scandinavian Biogas Fuels (Francesco Ometto) in order to discuss our projects and any possibilities of the collaboration in our research that brought the positive results and conclusions.

Fig. 4. LIU, QUB and SBF researchers

Fig. 4. LIU, QUB and SBF researchers

Fig. 5. LIU campus

Fig. 5. LIU campus

 

Fig. 6. Linkӧping river

Fig. 6. Linkӧping river

Fig. 7. LIU, QUB and SBF researchers at the main square in Linkӧping

Fig. 7. LIU, QUB and SBF researchers at the main square in Linkӧping

Linkӧping University (Tema M laboratory) is focused mostly on the research of the trace elements in terms of biogas process optimization. Researchers are also interested in the optimal use of Swedish paper mill wastes, hydrolysis optimization (i.e. the use of enzymes) and the rheology (crucial role of trace elements – see Luka’s blog piece) in the anaerobic digestion process. They believe that the optimized trace elements addition might result in higher methane production even by 15-20% (ca. 100 GWh). LIU has an impressive research facilities that we were able to see on the second day of our stay in Linkӧping during the walking lab-tour guided by Annika Bjӧrn (fig. 8, 9 and 10). She explained the lab-work they’re doing and showed some of the lab-scale digesters they’re running at the moment. Also, LIU works closely with Scandinavian Biogas Fuels (SBF) which focuses on the best proportion of algae in the reactors in the co-digestion of the other feedstock at different temperatures. SBF is testing algae as a feedstock (in the co-digestion) in their 5 L mesophilic and thermophilic CSTR reactors (fig. 10).

Fig. 8. Oxygen-replacing machine at LIU

Fig. 8. Oxygen-replacing machine at LIU

Fig. 9. Anaerobic chamber at LIU

Fig. 9. Anaerobic chamber at LIU

 

Fig. 10. Annika Bjӧrn (LIU). In the background - CSTR thermophilic and mesophilic lab-scale anaerobic digesters (property of SBF)

Fig. 10. Annika Bjӧrn (LIU). In the background – CSTR thermophilic and mesophilic lab-scale anaerobic digesters (property of SBF)

The QUB co-operation with the researchers from LIU and SBF would be very beneficial for broadening the knowledge about the microbial community of anaerobic digesters – because that is the issue I’m dealing with. My project is connected with the genomic optimization of the hydrolysis step of anaerobic digestion process. Thus, I’m using metagenomic (454-pyrosequencing) and molecular biology (PCR, qPCR, RT-qPCR) techniques in order to analyze microbial content (and microbial population shifts as a result of changes in different AD parameters) in the reactors.

The visit in Linkӧping was very productive in terms of networking and planning the future co-operation between researchers from QUB, LIU and SBF. I’m really looking forward for the secondment in Linkӧping!

 

Acknowledgements:

I’d like to thank all of the researchers we’ve met in Linkӧping for very valuable discussions and kind help.

References:

1.  Statens energimyndighet, Energigas Sverige (2014) Produktion och användning av biogas och rötrester år 2013. Statens energimyndighet, Energigas Sverige [Online] http://www.energimyndigheten.se/Global/Statistik/officiell%20statistik/Produktion%20och%20anv%C3%A4ndning%20biogas%202013.pdf

2. Persson T, Baxter D (ed.) (2014) Task 37. Biogas Country Overview (country reports). IEA Bioenergy [Online] http://www.biogasportalen.se/BliProducentAvBiogas/MerLitteratur/~/media/Files/www_biogasportalen_se/BliProducent/Rapporter/Countryreportsummary2013.ashx

3. Dahlgren S (2013) Realiserbar biogaspotential I Sverige år 2030 genom rӧtning och fӧrgasning. WSP [Online] http://www.biogasportalen.se/BiogasISverigeOchVarlden/~/media/Files/www_energigas_se/Publikationer/Rapporter/BiogaspotentialSverige2030.ashx

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Introduction to innovative technology of biogas production

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Biogas production facilities use a variety of reactor configurations.  In this blog piece, Markus Voelklein, ATBEST researcher at University College Cork, discusses and compares single stage and two stage reactors. 

The anaerobic microbial conversion of organic carbon takes place in a four phase degradation process. It consists of hydrolysis, acidogenesis, acetogenesis and methanogenesis, which theoretically can be identified via the presence of characteristic bacteria in each phase.

One-stage reactor system

In waste water treatment and agricultural plants the one‑stage digestion is dominating due to its decreased capital costs. This is probably the most important reason why most facilities have previously been designed for one-stage operation. Nevertheless, non optimum growth conditions prevail in this reactor especially for the bacteria involved in the first two phases (hydrolysis, acidogenesis) of the degradation process. Furthermore, since all four steps of fermentation take place simultaneously in one reactor the generated biogas during fermentation results in a mixture of all gas compounds of each phase. The digester of a one‑stage biogas plant is typically implemented as a cylindrical vessel, whose principle is shown in figure 1.

Figure 1: One stage biogas plant

Figure 1: One stage biogas plant

Two-stage reactor system

The two-stage biogas production has not commonly found its way into the biogas technology. The main reason lies in considerably higher capital costs regarding the construction of reactors and stirring technology. The requirements caused by decreased pH values for vessels, fittings and equipment in terms of corrosion have to be considered during the construction. Nevertheless, this technology is sometimes used in large scale industrial applications for example in waste water treatment or in the processing of easy-acidifying waste products in the food industry.

A two-stage biogas plant excels itself trough the spatial separation of process phases, which arise as a consequence of the different microbiological requirements of the four phase anaerobic process. In an upstream reactor acidification takes place and in a second reactor methanogenic bacteria produce methane. The two-stage system possesses the advantage of adjusting the environmental settings to the optimum requirements of the microorganisms. First of all, the pH value and loading rate can be adjusted individually. The spatial separation allows a directed acidification of the input substrate in a first vessel. The following Figure 2 illustrates a schematic layout of a two-stage biogas plant.

Figure 2: Two-stage biogas plant

Figure 2: Two-stage biogas plant

The substrate is fed into the first reactor where acidification takes place leading to hydrogen production and accumulation of acids and alcohol, which are precisely the precursor for the acetogenic microorganisms in the second stage. The hydrolysis phase is either carried out batch wise or continuously and connected to the second methanogenic reactor. The ratio of both reactor volumes is defined by the different retention time and generation time of the bacteria. This requires smaller volumes in the hydrolysis and bigger in the methane reactor, because the retention time in hydrolysis is significantly lower. At fibrous and high solid content enriched input substrate, mixing problems could occur in the hydrolysis phase and form a swimming layer. This can result in incomplete hydrolysis of the substrate. In order to prevent this condition, proper stirring technology has to be chosen in the design phase. Due to conversion of solid carbon into the liquid phase a liquefaction of the substrate occurs.

After a certain retention time of 1 to 5 days the acidified substrate is pumped into the methane reactor. Because of the already pre-liquefied substrate and the existing digested substrate in the methane reactor, the solid content is relatively low and requirements concerning the stirring technology decline. In contrast to the one‑stage process and as a result of the already largely liquefied carbon, a rapid degradation to biogas takes place, which leads to shorter overall retention times. An increase of methane yield or an extension of the input substrate range at higher loading rates is consequently feasible. Also poorly degradable lignocellulosic materials can be partly broken down trough the prevailing conditions in hydrolysis phase. Thus the bioavailability of these materials increases significantly and can be digested to biogas.

Biogas composition of two-stage digestion

The most fundamental difference and substantial advantage compared to the one‑stage system is represented by the separate gas collection of each vessel. This allows an active influence on the concentration of individual gas compounds or even a separated utilisation of the produced biogas. Figure 3 shows a comparison of a one and two-stage biogas plant system.

Figure 3: Comparison of one and two-stage biogas plant

Figure 3: Comparison of one and two-stage biogas plant

The gas compounds of an acidification reactor consists mainly of carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulphate and hydrogen. The composition can be influenced by parameters like retention time, loading rate, pH value and temperature in order to gain high carbon dioxide stripping. Due to this removal during acidification, a biogas with enhanced methane content is received in the methane reactor. For substrates like food waste or renewable raw materials a methane content of 60 to 70 % can be achieved. Therefore, the previous carbon dioxide stripping in a two-stage digestion system, enhances the efficiency and reduces the costs of a following biogas purification facility.

However, the loss of hydrogen and carbon dioxide in the first phase can contribute to reduced overall energy yields. On the other hand, the degradation rate rises due to the partial break down and a more complete utilisation of the substrate.

Comparison of both technologies

The one‑stage digestion constrains the biochemical settings of a digester. Inevitably non optimum growth conditions for hydrolysis bacteria prevail in this reactor. As a consequence an optimization should take this limiting step into consideration. The two-stage operation allows an individual optimization due to a separation into two-phases. Two-stages anaerobic digestion has been developed to minimize the inhibition of the hydrolysis and acidogenic microorganism by creating acidic conditions at a pH of 5.5. Slow growing methanogenic bacteria, which require a more neutral pH, are cultured in the second phase at longer retention times of 15 to 20 days. The investment costs for the two-stage fermentation are higher than for a one‑stage fermentation. The exceeding costs have to be refunded by advantages regarding the process stability and higher rate of substrate degradation, leading to higher biogas yields from the same amount of substrate.

 

 

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Biogas Upgrading – What are the real challenges?

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Biogas upgrading is vital part of the biogas supply chain to ensure compatibility with existing consumer technologies. Here, Keren Rajavelu, ATBEST researcher at University Duisburg-Essen, discusses the issue. 

The Bioenergy supply chain has become a thriving research field with the feasibility of technologies, cost and logistics. Specifically, issues in transporting the gas to grid or using it as a fuel for vehicles has gained more recognition in terms of both research and marketing. Biogas Upgrading is defined as the removal of carbon dioxide and other impurities from biogas to produce a gas with high methane content (greater than 96%). This gas is called Biomethane and is suitable for use in heat and power production or as a vehicle fuel.

 

Biogas plant with upgrading unit commissioned in Dec 2006 Stadtwerke Aachen AG, Germany

Biogas plant with upgrading unit commissioned in Dec 2006 Stadtwerke Aachen AG, Germany

The decision of an AD plant operator to utilise biogas directly or to first upgrade to Biomethane depends mainly on technical and legislative factors. A decade ago, there were only 20 biogas upgrading plants operating globally. This scenario has improved drastically to 220 operating plants at the end of 2012. Most of them are in Germany (96) and Sweden (55) according to  figures published by the IEA in 2013.

Although upgrading technologies such as Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA), Amine scrubbing, Water Scrubbing, Organic solvent scrubbing, Membrane separation and Cryogenic Separation are all established; it is PSA, water scrubbing and amine scrubbing that dominate. PSA has a market share of 40 %, water scrubbing 23% and amine scrubbing 22%.

 

Fig 2: Amine Scrubbing Unit in Lunen, Germany

Fig 2: Amine Scrubbing Unit in Lunen, Germany

When choosing a biogas upgrading technology, we must keep in mind that our primary goal is to remove maximum CO2 to increase the methane yield (97%) and produce a cleaner gas that is free of sulphur. All technologies mentioned above have the ability to fulfill this requirement.

What then are the main challenges of upgrading biogas? Whilst technically achievable at all scales, gas upgrading at small scale biogas plants can be too expensive.

This is the challenge that is being met by the ATBEST research project – producing new or improved technologies for the biogas supply chain that close the gap between existing technologies and what is economically sustainable. With respect to biogas upgrading, the techniques under investigation  include in-situ methane enrichment, coupled with an integrated biological sulphur removal process; the use of new absorbents like CaO ash and ionic liquids.

Fig 3:  Biogas Desulphurization Unit in Small scale Biogas plant Lunen, Germany

Fig 3: Biogas Desulphurization Unit in Small scale Biogas plant Lunen, Germany

In conclusion, there is an increase in biogas production in many countries and therefore in the efficient use of upgraded biogas. The uptake of new technologies in this area will depend on both the technology costs and the ability to meet the demands of the end user.

Suggested literature:

1. Dr. Wolfgang Urban. “Experiences and future perspectives of biomethane in Germany from a regulatory perspective”. Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety

2. Bauer F, Hulteberg C, Persson T and Tamm D, Biogas upgrading (2013). “ Review of commercial technologies”. SGC Rapport 270. Swedish Gas Technology Centre.

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BioGaC Study Tour November 2014

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In this blog, ATBEST researchers at Christian Jenne (University Duisburg-Essen), and Laura Gil Carrera (Gas Networks Ireland), tell us about their experiences of attending a study tour (BioGaC) throughout Sweden and Finland.

BioGaC (Biomethane and LNG in the North for Growth and Competitiveness in the EU) is a €4.4 M European Union research project in Sweden which started in March 2014. The research study covers the pilot deployment of two new CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) filling stations in Härnösand and Umeå, as well as improvements to existing stations at Sundsvall and Skellefteå in northern Sweden. The aim is to increase the number and density of the CNG filling stations, encourage the use of CNG and create a market opportunity for CNG/LNG (liquefied natural gas) investors.

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Proposed CNG/LNG filling stations in Sweden

Biofuels region was the project co-ordinator for this study tour, which opened a call for 12 participants in taking part on a study tour. This two day study tour started on 21st November 2014 in Skellefteå (Sweden) and finished in Vaasa (Finland) the following day.

Laura Gil Carrera from Gas Networks Ireland and Christian Jenne from University Duisburg-Essen have been nominated for this field trip. Demand for this research study trip was huge and was oversubscribed with submissions from eight different countries.

On our first day we met all participants at the central bus station in Skellefteå. From there we drove to a local biogas plant which was led by Mr Ola Burström. He was the main driver behind this biogas project since 2003. The biogas plant was fully commissioned and officially opened on 26th February 2007. All the food waste in this region is treated in this biogas plant and a “brown bin” was introduced to collect all local organic waste products. The owners of this biogas plant are mainly ordinary people living near the city and five company investors.

Plant field

 

This biogas plant has two 100% CBG (Compressed Biomethane Gas) filling stations: One onsite for trucks and commercial vehicles and one located in the city centre with the aim to increase the customer base. The biogas filling service is used by some haulage companies, local bus services, taxi drivers, pizza service and ordinary car drivers. Each customer has an individual fuel card and all biogas fuel purchases are deducted from their registered accounts by the end of each month. Due to a huge popularity (18 buses and trucks and 7 taxies and cars) the filling station needs an upgrade.

Filling 1-3

Filling process in comparison to a regular diesel fill for a bus can take up to 25 minutes which causes long waiting times for refueling. The future plan is to install a few more fast charging refueling points. This also will be housed in an open building with a night time refueling option for commercial vehicle. This would reduce waiting time on the filling station during the day and will translate into more efficiency for drivers due to filling process during the night time. This would mean the vehicle can be refueled over night without any supervision and therefore less man hours required.

On the second day after a short bus trip we met Leif Åkers, CEO at Stormossen Oy, and Johan Saarela, process engineer. Leif gave us a nice presentation on their biogas plant and how they are working to upgrade the biogas to biomethane. To handle the ”Chicken and egg” – problem, Leif firstly approached the municipality and he has been working very close with them. The municipality will have their own biomethane buses ready to run once the biogas is upgraded to biomethane.

The anaerobic digesters are fed with waste from household and sewage sludge. Such feedstock generates the equivalent to about 1.6 million litres of diesel. It is currently being used for electricity and heat production through CHP, however electricity price is very low in Finland so they are getting very low revenue, hence they are willing to upgrade the biogas and use it for transport. Leif showed us around the biogas plant, the waste processor, AD, gas holder and the CHP engines.

Afterwards we met Kurt Stenvall, CEO at Jeppo Biogas. Kurt talked about their biomethane plant, which has three digesters and produces 20- 25 GWh of biogas/year out of manure, offal and green masses from non-food agriculture. The biogas is sold to two nearby industries, Merkki and Snellmans and transported by pipeline to their premises. At the moment only a small amount of biogas is upgraded to biomethane, however they expect it to grow when a filling station will be built next year in Stormossen. It was very interesting to hear the challenges that they faced to make such a huge project real and successful.

The next talk was given by Mauri Blomberg, CEO at Vaskiluodon Voima Oy. He told us about the largest biomass gasification plant in the world, built in Vaasa. The power plant is mainly using coal for electricity (1.2-2.5 TWh/y) and district heat production (0.8 TWh/y) and integrating the biomass gasification plant to the existing coal-fired boiler  is a way of contributing to a more sustainable society and also prolong the life span of the plant. The syngas is used directly and co-fired with coal. Since the plant is air-blowned, it is not possible to use the syngas in a methanation process. The total investment was €40M, the gasifier has a fuel input of 140 MW and reduces the use of coal by 25-40% as well as CO2 emissions by 230,000 tons/year. It was great to hear Mauri’s talk but we needed to have a look of the technology in the field, so the bus took us to the gasifier and we could see the biomass dryer (called Titanic) as well as the gasifier itself.

gasifier 1-3

The visit was coming to an end, but a very interesting session was waiting for us in the conference centre, where we discussed how to solve biomethane and CNG market issues. We discussed on the different challenges and concerns in our countries and the mechanisms to face them. It was very rewarding session since we could hear interesting experiences, from the other participants, that could help us to face and solve our problems.

Besides lectures and visits to biogas plants, there was also time for entertainment and fun. After the long but very fruitful day we enjoyed some Swedish beers and a tasty Mexican dinner in a van J.

Dinner 1&2

Overall, it was very interesting to see how biogas business is constructed in Sweden and Finland. It was very impressive to see all the biogas plants successfully up and running and how they are working together from production to fuel and the market. It was great to share our experiences with such knowledgeable and interesting group and I believe we all learn something.

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