Bio4Energy and the Forest Refine research project of Biofuel Region held an open seminar 9 April to showcase research—and in Bio4Energy’s case also development—along a biorefinery value chain based on woody feedstock and adapted to conditions in the northern Sweden and in Finland.
Sixty-five people from academia, industry, local or regional authorities, as well as a journalist, attended the seminar, New Products from Forests—Supply Chains and Biorefinery Process, which marked the end of the Forest Refine project which has been studying the supply chain to biorefineries of forest-sourced raw materials.
Bio4Energy wants to thank all who took part for their interest and for the discussion their many questions to the presenters brought about. This looks set to continue 8 May as Biofuel Region, Åkroken Science Park Biobusiness Arena are to host a follow-up seminar to discuss the policy context in which the biorefinery technology development takes place, with an eye to the upcoming elections of the next European Parliament from 22 to 25 May this year.
The presentations from the New Products from Forest Seminar are published here and on the Forest Refine pages of the website of Biofuel Region.
Below are few highlights of the discussions 9 April, which took place at Umeå, Sweden, at the Bio4Energy member organisation the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU).
Technology is there for the taking
"The technology for full-scale second-generation bioethanol production is available", according to Krister Sjöblom of Valmet Corporation, a service provider to the pulp and paper industry and previously a part of Metso. Beta Renewables of Italy and the Swedish clean-technology company SEKAB possessed such technology, Sjöblom said, and Beta Renewables in "full scale". The latter group was about to launch three more full-scale operations in the U.S.A., Brazil and China, respectively. While bio-based business contained "a lot of risks" and presumptive buyers of Valmet bio-based technology would comment that this was "quite expensive", Sjöblom said, many of those companies still were willing to "share the risks".
Further, Matisons claimed that "Sweden's use of [woody materials for heat and power and other products] saves 60 million tonnes" of carbon dioxide emissions annually, mainly due to avoidance of fossil fuel use.
Whereas the biofuels’ report of the official Swedish government investigation on a fossil fuel-free transport fleet by 2030 had concluded that raw material outtake from forests in Sweden could increase to render a further 35 terawatt-hours (TWh), according to Matisons; Dimitris Athanassiadis of SLU said the figure could be 50 TWh. He added that that Sweden's consumption of automotive transport fuels was likely to fall to this level in 2050.
"I think the opportunity is quite big”, Athanassiadis said.
Building research capacity and cooperation
When it came to the usefulness of the projects such as building the sizeable Bio4Energy research environment—which had increased from 44 researchers in late 2009 to 235 at present, and which had attracted as much or more external funding as it had been granted by the Swedish government in the past two years—its single most important achievement had been significantly to increase cooperation and communication between the partner organisations.
"I must say that the cooperation between the universities is the most successful" aspect of the research environment, said Stellan Marklund, the Bio4Energy programme manager.
"All projects established in the first phase [2010-2015] can stand on their own feet now. So the possibility now to fill gaps with potential new collaborators is large", Marklund said. "Our research has been… very important for the development of technology [for biorefinery production].
"The collaboration and communication between universities have increased and we have a much better contact with industry than before", he concluded.
Industry "must be able to handle tougher feedstocks such as wood", he said, noting that "globally there is a focus on 'easy' feedstocks mainly from agriculture. If we are to replace fossil oil [in the economy], I think we need [those] feedstocks as well", Jönsson said.
Ander Nordin has been leading work to develop a biomass pre-treatment method known as "torrefaction", which technology Bio4Energy researchers have perfected to the point of being among the best in the world. Having described some of its benefits, such as producing a condensed, light-weight and hydrophobic biomass material; reminiscent of coal in appearance; Nordin said the resulting brownish black pellets were not only suitable for turning into biooil, heat or electricity, but could also be produced at a lower cost than so-called "white" (or non-torrefied) biomass pellets. He estimated the cost reduction to be about "30 per cent for the end user using black pellets [as] compared with white.
"We can produce a [more] hydrophobic pellet. That is our project right now and this can save a significant amount of money", he went on: "The next step for us is to make value of high-value chemical gas", which torrefaction side stream may be captured and used.
"We hope to refine that also to 'green' fuels or chemicals, using the Bio2Fuels system", he said with reference to a further invention by the group which has been designed to deliver products made in a process said to be "carbon negative". This meant the process would take more greenhouse gas out of the earth's atmosphere than it would produce as emissions, Nordin confirmed last year in an e-mail, but without explaining how.