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Renewable Tech: Finland Amps Up Pilot Projects

June 16, 2017
Several developments aim to further enhance renewable technologies

Espoo-based VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has announced a raft of new pilot projects designed to boost production of renewable fuels.


First up is the Soletair demo plant, jointly developed with Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT), Lappeenranta, Finland. It ties together technology that uses carbon dioxide to produce renewable fuels and chemicals with LUT’s own solar power plant in Lappeenranta. The two organizations have invested €1 million ($893,000 ) in the equipment alone so far.

The initial aim is to develop a pilot process capable of producing up to 200 L of fuels and other hydrocarbons for research purposes. The plant itself consists of the solar power plant, equipment for separating CO2 and water from the air, a section that uses electrolysis to produce hydrogen, and synthesis equipment for making a crude-oil substitute from carbon dioxide and hydrogen.

Pilot-scale plant units are being designed for distributed, small-scale production. To achieve greater capacity simply involves adding more units.

Figure 1. Individual synthesis units eventually could be used in E.U. research projects and by industry collaborators. Source: LUT.

Testing at the Soletair demo plant will continue through autumn. If successful, individual synthesis units then will feature in a number of European Union (EU) projects over the coming years, and as a platform for industry partners to carry out their own research.

The EU’s Compact Gasification and Synthesis process for Transport Fuels (COMSYN) program will fund the €5-million ($4.5-million) project until April 2021, with the broad aim to develop a new production concept that will reduce biofuel production cost up to 35% compared to alternative routes.

The EU envisions distributed primary conversion units capable of handling various biomass residues and converting them to intermediate liquid products using 10–15,000 metric ton/y units. The units would be located close to biomass resources including straw and other agricultural residues.

In a related development, VTT also announced it will expand operations of the Bioruukki pilot center in Espoo from thermochemistry to include novel ways of biomass utilization, recycling of textile fibers and green chemistry technologies. The pilot center will develop into a new kind of ecosystem, welcoming companies and research organizations to develop their ideas towards industrial-scale production.

“We are turning Bioruukki into a globally unique technology and business hub for the promotion of bioeconomy and circular economy, and renewable energy sources. New innovations are created at the interfaces between traditional sectors. Bioruukki’s special strength is that it allows various industrial sectors to meet under one roof,” says Jussi Manninen, executive vice president of solutions for natural resources and environment business area at VTT.

The first phase of pilot operations targets the production of fuels and chemicals from biomass and recycled feedstocks using gasification and pyrolysis technologies.

This development work focuses on improving energy efficiency and reducing investment costs. Manninen says this can be achieved by developing production processes to be integrated into industrial and municipal energy production systems. Ongoing projects include major gasification and pyrolysis initiatives financed by the Helsinki-based Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation (Tekes) and the EU, together with several company-commissioned development projects.

The second phase, which includes the Soletair work, has focused on movable synthesis units for chemical energy storage; a sea-container-based synthesis unit was developed last autumn. The goal here is to develop and demonstrate distributed production concepts for industrial needs.

Due to be completed this fall are new research facilities designed to investigate the processing of forest biomass and pulp production. The objective is to develop processes to produce new materials and chemicals from cellulose with the help of methods such as nanocellulose and fiberization technologies. This work supports pulp mill projects currently pending in Finland.

Also new at Bioruukki is a testing area for the alkaline dissolution and spinning of cellulose-based textile fibers. This environment enables research of a diverse material base, including development of cotton waste recycling. The first test runs will take place shortly.

Meanwhile, the start of 2019 will see a new building completed that will focus on the production of chemicals and new feedstocks using green chemistry methods.

In a sign of the importance placed on all of this development work, Bioruukki is the single largest investment ever made by VTT.

Seán Ottewell is Chemical Processing's Editor at Large. You can email him at [email protected].

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