My name is Mackenzie T. I am from Rochester, MI. I am going into my last year at MSU in Biosystems Engineering with a focus on bioenergy. I am also a member of Delta Gamma Sorority. I am very excited to learn about how Germany and Sweden use renewable energy and anaerobic digestion in particular. I hope to be working in the renewable energy sector when I graduate and plan on going back to obtain my masters.
Luleå is located in the province of Norrbotten that consists of a quarter of Sweden 1. This time of year, it will be in the 40’s but can reach 60’s in the summer time. We were lucky enough to have had great weather, although in the 40’s or 50’s the sun kept it comfortable all day. I particularly enjoyed how the sun never actually set, we were that far north 2. It looked like dusk around 3 am and then the sun would rise. After our Michigan winters, it was great to see the sun so much although we could have used thicker blinds. Taylor and I woke up a few mornings in a panic that we had slept through our alarms and were late when it was actually only 4 or 5 o’clock but the sun was so bright. There were times at our cabins that you thought you were in up north Michigan. The view of the lake and all the trees was gorgeous to be able to see everyday.
Luleå University of Technology is known for its research and innovation and even more so its renewable energy research that includes everything from bio-energy to hydro power and wind power. LTU has roughly 120 researchers dedicated to renewable energy with a massive list of individual projects 3. One of these major projects is creating synthesis gas for fuel from forest residues like stumps or twigs which are abundant in the area 4. It was amazing opportunity to be able to spend so much time at LTU and interact with the students and the faculty. We were able to learn so much from them not only about their research and Sweden, but about their culture and careers.
Arriving early in the morning, we walk through campus and the busy halls with LTU students heading to their lectures. In a classroom we have the opportunity to receive a presentation from Chrisitan Hulteberg, an associate professor from Lund University. His specialty is synthesis gas production for transportation fuels derived from a catalytic process. This process is used somewhere in the manufacturing process of 90% of all consumer products. Meaning, this is not new, it’s proven to be effective and very well understood. The catalysts increase the rate of reactions without being consumed fully in the process. Biocatlysts include enzymes and proteins, which can be used to create synthetic fuels like methanol from the compression of syngases (CO2, CO and H2). Syngases are created from gasification of biomass5.
Back at the University, some of the staff in the biochemical engineering group did short presentations for our benefit. The first was about the group Bio4Energy, given by Ulrika Rova, the head of the chemical engineering department. Bio4energy is designed for research and collaboration between multiple universities with the goal of finding sustainable uses for biomass. This group is funded by the government through grants. In the fall, they will find out if they will be extended for another period of five years to continue the research, which none of them sounded unsure about receiving again. I found this to be surprising since in the U.S these types of programs would change and have the threat of being cut with every election. However, in Sweden, although things change with who is elected to power, some things everyone agree is important for their future. Something that sets this research group apart from others is the fact that they have a biorefinery pilot plant in order to move their research into a larger scale. The group is divided into five platforms each with their own unique way of looking at biorefineries. These include: feedstock, pretreatment, biochemical, catalysis and separation and environmental 6.
We then had a brief presentation on biofuels from Paul Christakopoulos from the chemical engineering department. He presented on the realistic idea that we must push forward in renewable energies but not just one, we will need all of them in order to displace fossil fuels. For example, if we just wanted to use nuclear power, a new plant would have to be created every 2 days for the next 35 years. He suggested that we need to reduce green house gases to 450 ppm, about 50% of what they are on track to be in the next century.
The Phd students in the department were kind enough to give us tours of the labs and share with us what they are working on. Each unique research topic was fascinating and innovative, some of the published research as well as others. I was especially interested in the techniques in the lab that I have done on a smaller scale at Michigan State University’s Anaerobic Digestion Research and Education Center. One Phd student showed us his advanced methods of doing BMP’s to see how different wood feedstocks created biogas7. The background knowledge that I have from running these tests myself really helped with following along to the research. This will be particularly helpful when we are visiting anaerobic digesters in Germany next week.
4 “Synthesis gas for fuel – directly from forest residues.” – LTU. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 May 2014. <http://www.ltu.se/centres/Svenskt-forgasningscentrum-SFC/Syntesgas-for-drivmedel-direkt-av-skogsrester-1.91408?l=en>.
5. Sims, R. (2002). Chapter 6: The brilliance of bioenergy: In business and in practice. London: UK, James & James, Ltd.
7. SWENTEC. (2008). Biogas from manure and waste products- Swedish Case studies. Retrieved May 7,2012 from http://swentec.se/Documents/Swentec/Bibliotek/Biogas%20from%20manure%20and%20waste%20products%20-%20Swedish%20case%20studies.pdf