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Productive use for Finnish biomass

Paula Bergqvist | 5.6.2014

​One of VTT’s most important openings this year is the start-up of Bioruukki. The pilot centre opens this autumn in the town of Espoo in Greater Helsinki. 

Bioruukki’s 8,000 square metres will initially house VTT’s new gasification and pyrolysis equipment, together with the biomass treatment processes for serving industrial development needs. Plans have already been made to expand the operations.

– We decided to renew the facilities ­serving our gasification and pyrolysis testing activities so that we could conduct research and serve the needs of the industry in a more comprehensive manner, explains Kari Larjava, Executive Vice President at VTT.

The underlying motive behind the project is VTT’s goal of developing technologies that exploit the full potential of our country’s abundant biomass and natural resources for the benefit of the Finnish economy and the growing cleantech exports.

– The new premises combine VTT expertise in chemistry, energy and biomass processing. They provide us with an excellent opportunity to achieve bioeconomy-related goals, says Larjava.

In addition to Bioruukki at Kivenlahti, Espoo, VTT has testing operations related to bioenergy and biomass research at Jyväskylä, Rajamäki, Tampere and Otaniemi in Espoo.  


 

Reaching for international markets through Bioruukki

Larjava welcomes companies in the industry – both large and small – to Bioruukki, to take advantage of the facilities and equipment for their own testing purposes. The facilities also serve projects conducted in collaboration with universities and research organisations. 

Through Bioruukki, companies can take advantage of the operations of VTT’s research unit in São Paulo, Brazil, where VTT has both office and laboratory facilities that can be expanded if necessary. 


 

Wood is Finland’s oil

– We may not have oil, but, fortunately, we do have wood. High-quality wood materials are advisable when manufacturing products with high added value, and it is important to find the ideal use for each type of wood.  Here in Finland, we use wood for energy in the most sustainable and competitive manner in the world, because we know how to exploit the side streams and waste for producing energy, Larjava points out.

Taking advantage of the forest biomass is a crucial task for Finland, as well as for VTT. 

– We are developing methods that can be applied with various materials. Our R&D places special emphasis on recycling of materials and promoting the use of side streams, as well as on the opportunities for developing new business out of them, Larjava explains.


 

Towards low-carbon energy self-sufficiency

– Finland is very heavily dependent on energy imports from Russia. Some of the existing Finnish production capacity is being phased out, which further weakens our self-sufficiency. Now, if ever, is the time to focus on development and investment in new, competitive production. Our forest industry is seeking to make energy a new buttress for its operations, and has a major role to play in this,” says Larjava.

The Finnish forest industry’s chief focus is on ways of producing energy, fibre products and chemicals in a single facility. 


 

Pyrolysis or gasification of wood?

Pyrolysis is the current focus of attention for both VTT and Finnish industry. On the gasification front, VTT is creating new process solutions to boost competitiveness and to serve as a foundation for near-future industrial projects.

A good example of this is the Fortum plant in Joensuu that produces bio-oil from wood-based raw material. The Joensuu plant is based on fast pyrolysis technology, patented by VTT, in which bio woody biomass is rapidly heated in the absence of oxygen. The facility, integrated into a combined heat and power (CHP) plant, received the EARTO innovation prize in 2012. VTT developed the method for commercialisation for a consortium that consisted of UPM-Kymmene, Valmet and Fortum. 

VTT is currently investing heavily in upgrading bio-oil to traffic fuel by developing the production process with foreign research institutes and companies. 

– We are also developing new, integrated gasification plants, thus lowering the investment threshold compared to the many projects that have fallen through under the EU NER300 financing programme. Several kinds of chemicals and biofuels can be produced from the synthesis gas. The challenge lies in the development of new demonstration paths for the technology and risk financing with various actors.

VTT aims to simplify the process and to enhance the efficiency of production   with the help of gas cleaning and reactor modelling.  

– We are also developing new operating models where liquid fuels are produced in connections with local power and heat production. Our goal is that more than 75 percent of wood, agricultural and community waste biomass can be converted into transport fuels, power and heat energy, Larjava says.

The EU landfill directive has created a growing need for investment in new concepts for utilisation of industrial and community waste. 

– The new Bioruukki equipment plays a role in implementing this task.

VTT has also developed gasification and gas cleaning of community waste. The operation of Lahti Energia’s Kymijärvi II gas power plant is based on a gasification process developed by VTT. The plant gasifies energy-containing community waste, after which the gas is cleaned and burned in a gas-fired boiler to produce power and district heat. 

VTT has also developed a gasification method for aluminium containing plastic waste for use in aluminium recovery and recycling. 


 

Increasing cooperation

– We at VTT are implementing our bioeconomy strategy through national and international cooperation. Our complementary R&D partners include Aalto University and the Natural Resources Institute Finland, which begins operations at the start of next year, says Larjava. Bioruukki offers a new development platform for cooperation projects.

​A good example of this is VTT and Aalto University’s joint research environment targeting the bioeconomy, which this spring was chosen by the Academy of Finland as one of the national-level research infrastructures. The purpose of the cooperation is to develop methods for upgrading forest biomass to high-technology products. The focus areas of research include industrial biotechnology, chemical process technology and material technology. 

 

 

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