Authored by Anna Strom
Original article: Bio4Energy
In terms of technology, the chemical industry at Stenungssund, Sweden, could make the switch today to a renewable raw material as a partial base for its production, according to a recent report from a Swedish national Forest Chemistry project, using existing technology for making plastics from petrochemicals.
However, for the industry to achieve a level of profitability when using wood or woody waste as feedstock comparable to that of using chemicals refined from fossil oil, political support measures similar to those in place for certain types of bioenergy production would be needed, the report authors from SP Processum and Chalmers Technical University say.
“The project shows that it is possible to replace parts of the fossil raw material and to continue and to use existing technology, but [production] volumes and economics are more tricky bits. The conclusion is that ‘green’ chemicals would need to be supported by incentives similar to those in place for bioenergy production”, said Bio4Energy scientist Leif Jönsson, professor at Umeå University, who led one of the Forest Chemistry research projects on the so-called Sugar Platform.
The research in Forest Chemistry focused on three tracks of the chemical-making operations: Production of butanol, olefins and methanol extracted from the sulphate process of pulping operations. An environmental impact assessment was performed by Bio4Energy researchers at the SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden in the form of a life-cycle assessment attempting to gauge the environmental and climatic impact of switching 25 per cent of the raw material base for the totality of the production at the industrial cluster to woody feedstock, as compared with a continued used of petrochemical feedstock.
“We have examined the preconditions both for processes in which cellulose-based ethanol and methanol made by gasification of raw materials from the forest are produced as starting materials from the production of chemicals and plastics. The project results show that it is feasible to use existing techniques, even if additional technological progress is welcome as it would make the processes more efficient.
“Looking at the technical side of things is very important since, in addition to bulk products, one could make high value-added products. There is good reason to continue the work, for instance on lignin products”, according to Jönsson.
Bio4Energy’s LCA researchers on the project stressed the importance of assessing the sustainability of products coming out of the cluster along their collective value chain.
“One has to look at the whole value chain. This is a very important result of the project for industry”, said Johanna Berlin who works as a research and business developer at the SP’s Gothenburg branch.
“If environmental impact strategies are designed based on what happens inside the gates of an industry cluster only, one runs the risk of causing greater emissions outside the gates than necessary”, Berlin added.
The Forest Chemistry project, started in 2012, has involved cooperation by chemical and forestry industry, as well as scientists from the academy and consultants from research institutes. It has served to bring two industries together which previously would have had little contact, and bred an understanding that industry and academy need to cooperate for society to realise a transition to a bioeconomy, according to the project’s final report, published last month.
“The project has succeeded in bringing together the forestry industry and biorefinery industry and academic actors. The parties appreciate this very much and would like to see a continuation”, Jönsson said.
The final report of the Forest Chemistry project, From green forest to green commodity chemicals – Evaluating the potential for large-scale production in Sweden for three value chains, is available for download on the website of the Swedish Agency for Innovation Systems.
The following organisations have been part of the Forest Chemistry project:
Bio4Energy – Professor Leif Jönsson, PhD student Frida Røyne (SP/Umeå University), as well gasification and torrefaction researchers at the Luleå University of Technology (Rikard Gebart) and Umeå University (Anders Nordin), respectively;
Chalmers University of Technology;
SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden;
SP Processum, acting as project leader for Forest Chemistry, issued a press release in Swedish on the conclusions drawn in the project’s final report.