Energy from by-products? Yes! Nearly anything can be combusted
Renewable energy use is on the rise, which bodes well for domestic fuels and by-products used in energy production. Of the energy used in Finland, roughly 40 per cent comes from domestic sources – but that figure could be higher. With energy trade, approximately 4–8 billion euros flows outside of Finland’s borders, mostly to Russia. This represents as much as 15 per cent of the state budget.
Of all energy sources, Finland uses renewable, domestic wood by far the most, and it is used to produce nearly a third of all the energy consumed by the nation. Wood fuels account for as much as 37 per cent of the total energy sources used by industry. In addition to forest chips, other fuel sources are pellets and peat, and increasingly also residual by-products from the forest industry, sawmills and plywood mills.
The Finnish Government targets an increase in the use of domestic energy from the current level to 55 per cent in the 2020s. Choosing domestic fuels is significant from a societal point of view for many reasons: it has employment and economic impacts, it relates to the growing need for emergency supply, and it can help dramatically reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
According to Kyösti Rannila, Adven’s procurement manager for domestic fuels, the government’s growth target is ambitious, but not impossible, if the range of fuels were broadened from traditional wood-based fuels to other fuels from nearby sources, such as industrial side streams. In addition, streamlining industrial energy consumption, for instance, by using closed cycles and modern evaporation solutions, could potentially reduce the total need for energy by as much as 30%, which in turn would reduce the need for fuels.
Fuel from industrial side streams
The latest report by the Panel on Climate Change has led to a lively debate about negative carbon emissions and retaining forests as carbon sinks. The previous major sustainability debate concerned the circular economy and the wise use of resources. In this context, it is quite fitting that companies are increasingly interested in using the by-products generated in industrial companies’ production as a fuel.
Just about any material can be turned into industrial fuel. Adven has produced efficient energy from, among other things, demolition wood, various packaging waste, plastics, grain by-products, slurries and fibres – even ash, hydrogen and horse manure are processed into energy. The use of by-products often significantly reduces the need for purchased fuels.
Many companies are still weighing the cost-effectiveness of fuel against its carbon neutrality. When it comes to a company’s sustainability targets and reputation, a major consideration is that the emission-free alternative is increasingly also the most cost-effective one.
“The most important thing for us is that our customers gain an advantage in our energy solutions. That often means increasing the share of renewable fuels and making use of the customer’s own production side streams,” says Rannila.
Cost-effective, predictable and ecological
From a company’s perspective, using traditional, domestic fuels pays off, in terms of both costs and the environment: pellets cost a third of the price of oil, and forest chips are half the price of gas. Some by-products are slightly more challenging to use and require special combustion and processing technology. With these kinds of by-products, supply therefore outstrips demand – which naturally affects the price of the fuel.
There is another factor related to price, and that is predictability. The price and availability of Finnish fuels are not linked to global politics. In addition, domestic fuels come from certified forests, and contractors’ obligations are easy to manage. Minimising transport is another major benefit, both cost-wise and for the environment.
With the exception of peat, domestic fuels are mostly carbon neutral. Finland’s target is to be carbon neutral in 15–20 years. This is expected to be reflected in companies and municipalities now as they plan new energy solutions.
Adven mainly uses domestic fuels in its plants, and also an ever-increasing range of its client companies’ production side streams. “In terms of solid fuels, we have hardly had to rely on imported fuels at all. It’s always possible to find a solution nearby – where there’s a will, there’s a way,” Rannila sums up.