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Making the most of renewable inputs

Biovakka Suomi Oy
Biovakka believes that bioenergy needs to be both highly efficient from a technological point of view and profitable from a business perspective. Its solutions are designed to deliver just these benefits – without depending on inputs that could be used as food or land needed for food production.

Using organic raw materials – such as farm manure, sludge from the food industry, and biowaste from retailers and municipalities – to produce biogas, recycled nutrients, and transport fuel lies at the heart of Biovakka’s business model.

Biogas has played a particularly large role in the company’s activities, and Biovakka started up Finland’s first large-scale biogas plant in 2004. Capable of processing 120,000 t/a of organic raw material input from pig farmers in the surrounding area, together with by-products from industry and municipalities, this has been followed by a second unit based on municipal wastewater treatment sludge. An environmental impact assessment is currently under way on a biogas facility in Hyvink√§√§, north of Helsinki.

As an environmentally friendly, locally available, and renewable source of energy, biogas has the potential to make a valuable contribution to combating climate change, as it does not increase the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Developing biomethane

In addition to using biogas to generate electricity, heat, and fertiliser, Biovakka is also planning to refine it into biomethane for use as a transport fuel. The company is working with Gasum, which is responsible for Finland’s natural gas supply, on a project to supply biomethane through the country’s natural gas network. The plan is to build the first plant of this type in 2011-2012 and follow it with up with further pipeline-linked units in the future.

As with Biovakka’s other plants, the input for this facility will mainly take the form of agricultural and industrial by-products and sludge from municipal wastewater treatment plants. Following anaerobic digestion, the conversion of digestion residues into recycled nutrients, and desulphurisation, the resulting gas will be pressurised and fed into the pipeline network.

High-quality fertiliser is also part of the equation

With two large facilities operational, Biovakka is Finland’s leading producer of biogas and selfsufficient in electricity and heat today.

The recycled nutrient produced at these plants is well-suited for field cropping and improves the characteristics of the soil by returning humus and carbon, while reducing soil nutrient washout.

Comparisons with conventional fertilisers have shown that the product, which is odour-free and can be used as such, performs very well in terms of nutrient effectiveness. Perhaps its biggest advantage, however, is the fact that it can help reduce our dependence on declining phosphate resources and the energy-intensive methods used to produce the artificial fertilisers based on them.

Sales of green energy and recycled nutrients – from plants like this in Turku, which runs on municipal wastewater treatment sludge – are expected to provide Biovakka’s main revenue streams in the future.
> Harri Hagman
(Published in HighTech Finland 2011)