- Written by Anna Strom
“We are launching a drive to shore up our work on pyrolysis oil, a part of which we have iniatiated in Bio4Energy and which is one of our most important strategic research projects”, said Marklund, who took over the responsibility for ETC’s executive management in 2012 from B4E colleague Rikard Gebart, head of the B4E Thermochemical Platform and professor at the Luleå University of Technology.
“In connection to this we cooperate with [the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory,] NREL in a bilateral state-run project. Bio4Energy has been one of the financiers of our cyclone [gasifier]-based concept. Research activites around pyrolysis oil be one of our most important initiatives forthwith”, according to Marklund, himself a researcher at the ETC since 2001.
“We have been having a lot of activity in this area and want to maintain the momentum… So we seek a research engineer who has experimental skills and experiences in this type of process. Our staff is already made up of experienced folk so we are able to offer [the new recruit] an environment that should allow him or her to develop his or her expertise quickly. The new person will be very active in experimental work”, Marklund said.
Identifying feedstock fit for 'syngas' production
The ETC is also looking to hire a research engineer to work on biomass gasification and notably the “optimisation” of such processes for the purpose of making biofuel or "green" chemicals. However, Marklund said the new role would be doing more than upgrading existing processes. Gasification of black liquor, a by-product of the pulping process, has been a flagship of Piteå-based demonstration trials for production of synthetic gas and, in a second step, the bio-based “green” diesel dimethyl ether. The ETC has been involved in these trials along with Chemrec, the Swedish clean-tech company, the Smurfit Kappa pulp and paper making group and others. Now the ETC researchers are looking to start testing further forest-sourced materials for producing synthetic gas, or “syngas”. Residues from forestry operations and other types of organic waste are candidate feedstock.
“This means tasks [for the new person] may include running tests on new materials or waste and perform diagnostics of the process with optically-based methods”, Marklund said.
There is a third focal area for ETC where Marklund would like to shore up the firm’s expertise: Combustion of biomass or biomass-based waste. An “experienced” researcher will be recruited to take on this role.
“In contrast to the two other strands [of activity] we are hiring for, there are already industrial applications for combustion”, said Marklund. Here too the job will be to perfect existing processes and to trial new feedstock or input material to be burnt in different types of industrial combustion furnaces. Candidates for this role should be capable of analysing biomass combustion processes and propose improvements.
Removing pollutants, unnessecary costs
Finally, on the side of biorefinery applications the ETC should be continuing its work on syngas upgrading. This entails studying the components of the gas for the purpose of removing undesirable, and generally polluting, substances. Not least, the researchers will want, in cooperation with R&D partners in B4E, entrepreneurs gravitating around the Solander Science Park cluster, and possibly also the Processum Biorefinery Initiative—the B4E strategic partner—to create maximally cost-efficient methods for purifying syngas and further refine it to value-added "green" chemicals.
Said Marklund: “The cost aspect very quickly becomes decisive when [new applications] are introduced to an industrial setting. Luckily, we have a lot of infrastructure in an appropriate scale at our disposal that enables us to study the issues we have just talked about”.
So where will the ETC be in five-to-ten years from now?
“Then we may have doubled our personnel. We may need to widen the span of our activities and hire staff members who have a more all-encompassing competency”, Marklund said, adding that he hoped in this time that the ETC could gain a further foothold in Europe, by entering into EU-sponsored R&D collaborations. Several stakeholders in Asia had manifested their interest in the ETC services, he added.
A visionary and long-term goal of the ETC was to build a knowledge bank, including a “fundamental understanding” of bioenergy and biorefinery applications to aid industrial deployment, Marklund said.
“This is to be able to optimise industrial processes and exchange knowledge with industry in its transformation” in terms of becoming part of a sustainable energy system and expanding the bioeconomy, he went on;
“We also work as consultants but our primary business is to take the research forward, towards our vision [of a sustainable energy system]... We would like to make miracles, of course”.
In May, ETC CEO Magnus Marklund outlined the firm's contribution to B4E at a seminar for its 170 researchers at Umeå, Sweden. He said then that the ETC would like to expand its work in B4E to include hybrid conversion of biomass to chemicals, catalytic upgrading of pyrolysis oil and, fractionation of biomass as a way of compacting it and making further suitable as a feedstock in gasification or combustion processes.