Resource-efficient use of biomass can change the world

Heli AntilaPosted by: Heli Antila
18.4.2018

Concern about climate change and sufficiency of resources are megatrends guiding Fortum’s strategy. We aim to respond to the challenges they bring also through our research and development work.

A growing area of research and development for us in recent years has been the more resource-efficient use of biomass. The concept can be compared to the circular economy and the utilisation of waste. Just like with waste, all the usable fractions should be separated from the biomass and put to use. Only then should the remaining material be combusted for energy.

Our research and development programme focusing on the efficient use of biomass is called Bio2X. Our basic idea is that biomass can be used to produce raw materials to replace fossil or less sustainable raw materials. We are pursuing solutions that significantly increase the value of biomass, reduce the manufacturing industry’s water consumption and environmental impacts, and bring new business opportunities to farmers in the poorest countries.

Towards new applications and value chains

We have been researching technologies related to biomass refining in collaboration with other players for years. During this time, the application areas have shifted from energy to also other industrial sectors – and even to consumer products.

We have been called an “oil company”, because the first commercialised product was bio-oil made from forest residues, chips or sawdust using pyrolysis technology. Produced in Joensuu, Fortum Otso bio-oil is a suitable replacement for heavy oil, and it reduces CO2 emissions by nearly 90 per cent compared to fossil fuels. The development work in this area will continue, as Fortum and Valmet are developing technology that makes it possible to produce high-value liquid biofuels from lignocellulose. Our collaboration partner is the Swedish fuel company Preem.

Biomass fractionation opens new opportunities

Lately we have focused particularly on biomass fractionation technologies and downstream processing. In fractionation, the biomass is divided into its three basic components: lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose. When fractionation is done immediately at the start of the process, the end products are much purer than in traditional cellulose and biofuel processes. These purer end products can be used in the production of a variety of products and to replace fossil or otherwise unsustainable raw materials in many industrial sectors, such as textiles or the plastic industry.

Many biomass sources, including many types of wood, straw, and grasses, can be used in fractionation. The availability of the raw materials and the use of new technology, in turn, enable smaller biorefineries and decentralised production. The selected raw material, the fractionation technology and the downstream processing play a role in determining the most feasible end product.

Will biowende follow energiewende?

Especially in developing countries, agrobiomass, like straw, is burned. The large-scale burning of straw in fields creates greenhouse gas emissions and local emissions. For example, the worst outdoor air in Delhi is so polluted that spending a day outside is equivalent to smoking 44 cigarettes. In three states in the Delhi region, 50 million tonnes of agrobiomass is burned every year. If it were processed into textile fibres, the amount would correspond to over half of the world’s cotton production. Huge potential!

In fact, the Bio2X research area is tackling such big questions that I’ve compared it in my presentations to an energy transition, i.e. “energiewende”, in which wind and solar power will disrupt the entire energy system. Time will tell if we’ll see a “biotransition”, where the resource-efficient use of biomass replaces industry that is based on fossil and other unsustainable raw materials.

Heli Antila is Fortum’s CTO

Blockchain-based energy services – hype or the future?

catarina_naucler-60x60Posted by: Catarina Nauclér
29.11.2017

It was during early spring 2016 that we started looking into blockchain. What was this technology all about? What could it mean for us and our businesses? We decided to dig very deep into the topic in order to understand more about it. Early on, we understood that this was not a very easy topic. Consequently, we decided that we wanted to work with others to elaborate around the topic and we wanted to try to find a use case; at the end of the day, it has to be concrete in order to move forward.

We met the Innogy blockchain team for the first time during August 2016 and we mutually agreed that EV charging was a very interesting topic to develop further. The project idea “Oslo2Rome” was born.

Now the initiative includes seven partners in five countries and within weeks we will have tested the whole solution. It remains to be seen if we made it the whole way from “Oslo2Rome”. I might add a spoiler here: although we started from Oslo, we chose to exclude the actual >550 km trip from Karlstad to the German border as it didn’t contribute to the actual test.   The purpose of our participation in the whole initiative is that we believe it will improve the EV customer experience, especially for those moving between countries and operators. As a charging operator, a blockchain-based payment system might also be more cost effective and provide better solutions for roaming services.

We also believe that it’s beneficial to engage in collaboration with others – as we are doing in this initiative. Will a solution like this help to lower the threshold for an individual to switch to EV? It might, hence it’s worth pursuing.

The Nordic EV market

The EV market in Norway is already close to having become a mass market, and Fortum Charge & Drive is the main charging operator. The market is different in Sweden, with significantly fewer EV’s and PHEV’s dominating the market for chargeable vehicles, although there is steady growth and a somewhat more fragmented charging market. Finland is now pushing hard for fast expansion of the charging network to support the transition towards EVs. Finland is also one of our home markets.

The focus of Fortum’s business model for B2B charging is on a white label solution in close cooperation with, for example, municipality utilities, property managers and fast-food chains, offering a back-end solution where operations, maintenance and customer support are handled by us. An upside for the end customer is full access to all 1 500 charging points in the network. In a sparsely populated country (which these three countries are), a fairly comprehensive fast-charging network is necessary, but we have gradually increased our focus on Home Charging solutions. Especially in Sweden, with its large share of PHEV’s, home charging is crucial in order to get the EV part of PHEV going.

Will blockchain have a role in different solutions connected to e-mobility? Yes, we believe so, and this is the first step. Then we’ll ’see ’what the next one is.

Catarina Nauclér, R&D Manager, Sweden

 

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In Stockholm, from left: Tobias Goodden, Analyst; Catarina Nauclér, R&D Manager; Per-Oscar Hedman, Communications Manager

About Oslo2Rome

 

The Oslo2Rome project is a cooperation between infrastructure between EV charging infrastructure companies Elaad, Enexis Group, enviaM, Fortum, innogy, Sodetrel and VKW, covering Sweden, Norway, Germany, Austria, Netherlands and France. The purpose is to test cross-border charging network based on blockchain technology and utilizing a shared version of technology developer MotionsWerk’s e-mobility wallet.

 

Fighting electricity poverty with solar energy

catarina_naucler-60x60Posted by: Catarina Naucler
30.03.2017

The Earth absorbs as much energy from the Sun in two hours as would be needed for an entire year. At the same time, 1.3 billion people lack a reliable source of electricity. Up until now there has not been adequate and sufficiently cheap solutions for people who live without electricity. In this situation many people are forced to turn to kerosene, with all its harmful health and environmental effects.

At Fortum, we are now pushing the area in creating innovative energy solutions that allow us to make use of our know-how in solar energy, and to promote a better quality of life in a completely new way. A good example is our cooperation with Futurice, which is important both for developing new technology and for developing new business models in a continually changing branch of the energy sector.

This cooperation unites Fortum’s expertise in energy with Futurice’s expertise in software design. Together we will create a solution that makes it simple for people in developing countries to get electricity. For us this is a whole new way of driving innovation, and with our common goal and pooled expertise we can already see how fruitful our cooperation is.

Our plan is to develop a platform that will help local solar energy suppliers to offer solar energy solutions to their customers more effectively than is currently possible. Using a software-as-a-service concept, these businesses can offer a solution to ensure payment from the end users, and at the same time to provide better customer support, thus making the whole system more reliable. One payment solution is a pay-as-you-go model, which makes it possible for people who don’t have the money to invest in their own solar panels to nonetheless obtain electricity.

It is difficult to overestimate the significance of access to electricity in everyday life. It has vitally important impacts on health, education, and the economy. And there are unusually many reasons to be hopeful for the future.

Mary-House

World’s oldest and newest energy storage side by side: hydropower and batteries

roosa_nieminen_60x60Posted by: Roosa Nieminen
27.02.2017

There is a big hype on lithium-ion batteries; they are enjoying the media spotlight alongside other cool ideas, such as demand response and electric vehicles. Fortum too has joined in the Nordic battery game: Batcave, the biggest lithium-ion battery in the Nordic countries, will be taken into use on Wednesday, 1 March, at Fortum’s Järvenpää power plant.

But what is this battery mania really about? Does Finland really need a cargo container full of cell phone batteries to be connected to the electricity network? And what will they actually be used for?

The basics on the battery hype

The big interest in energy storage, i.e. battery hype, has prevailed in energy markets for a long time. And there’s a really good reason for this hype: with the increase in the number of rooftop solar panels and windmills spinning in windy weather, the aim is to be able to store that renewable energy for later use when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing.

Since we want to increase the use of solar and wind energy, we must be able to store the energy for several hours: from the mid-day sunshine to late evening’s prime-time TV hours.

In addition to energy storages that store energy for hours, energy storages that are fast, reacting at the second- and minute-level, are also needed. Every day, the electricity network experiences sudden, unpredictable peaks in electricity consumption and production; at worst, these peaks can cause power outages and disruptions. The future may bring more potential electricity peaks and thus even more need for fast-reacting energy storages. When the sun suddenly emerges through cloud cover, a solar panel’s production shoots from zero to 100 per cent, and when hundreds of electric vehicles connect to charging stations at the same time, the balance between electricity production and consumption can sway dramatically in the electricity network.

So do we need batteries for this? Yes and no.

In terms of energy storage, things here in Finland are already relatively good: we have a lot of hydropower.

Hydropower: the wallflower of renewables

Hydropower is often the forgotten renewable energy form in the media hype, perhaps because of its long history – hydropower is one of the oldest energy production forms – and therefore it may be slightly boring alongside the media-sexy solar and wind power.

Hydropower also happens to be our best energy storage. Hydropower can solve both energy storage problems: water can be stored in lakes for hours, and, on the other hand, hydropower plants can quickly increase or decrease production, in under a minute. Despite its old age, hydropower can tranquilly store energy and, at the same time, can react very fast to the needed changes.

So then, why are batteries needed?

Hydropower is agile, but agility comes with a price. Fast changes at hydropower plants wear their mechanical parts, shortening their expected life-time. Big maintenance projects have had to be done at hydropower plants years earlier than expected due to the wear on the bearings and seals of the Kaplan turbine blades.

This is where lithium-ion batteries come into the picture.

Of the battery technologies, lithium-ion batteries have developed enough for commercial use: the price of lithium-ion batteries has dropped quickly in recent years, and it is believed that the price will continue to decrease as demand increases. Lithium-ion batteries can react in seconds, making them ideal for fast energy storages to support the growth of solar and wind energy in energy production.

In the Nordic countries, lithium-ion batteries can give hydropower a break. By having batteries (instead of hydropower) perform the fast adjustment, the premature wear of the machinery is prevented, and hydropower’s flexibility is used for longer-term energy storage.

Batteries and hydropower are no means competing with each other. They work best when supporting each other.

Batcave battery and future outlook

The Batcave, the biggest battery storage in the Nordic countries, will be taken into use on Wednesday, 1 March 2017, at Fortum’s Järvenpää power plant. The fast-reacting 2MW/1MWh lithium-ion battery will offer the electricity network fast, second- and minute-level flexibility in frequency regulation. The Batcave project was launched in April 2016 after a bidding round, and was ready for deployment in February 2017.

batcave-in-jarvenpaa-350px
Batcave Lithium-ion battery in Järvenpää

 

The Batcave battery will be used alongside hydropower. The battery’s primary role is to provide fast adjustment; when its output capacity is reached, hydropower will be engaged to support it. The best end result will be achieved by optimising the use of the battery and hydropower together.

Fortum is also thinking beyond the Järvenpää Batcave. Growth in use of solar and wind energy in the energy markets is not limited only to Finland: batteries will be needed elsewhere in the world, too, especially in places where hydropower is not available.

So could Finnish know-how in the optimal use of batteries be exported to other parts of the world? A good way to start capturing global markets is to start learning. The Batcave battery is, above all, a learning project towards the future energy market and new opportunities.

batcave-illustration-500px

Batcave illustration in pdf file

Roosa Nieminen, Project Manager for Batcave

Discussions during Almedalsveckan: The Role of Fortum Virtual Power Plant in the digitalisation of the energy sector

Posted by Oskar Ekman
12.7.2016

At the seminar for Digitalisation of the Energy sector during Almedalsveckan in Gotland, Sweden, discussions and presentations were opened on topics focusing on what the future of the energy sector will look like. Digitalisation has changed many sectors in the past, and now is the turn of the energy sector. Digitalisation not only allows new players to enter the market, but also enables the development and implementation of products that disrupt the traditional roles of the parties.

Read more about Almedalsveckan: http://www.almedalsveckan.info/6895 

During the seminar, we had the opportunity to stand in front of colleagues, policy makers and others interested and present the Fortum Virtual Power Plant (VPP). With the VPP and digitalisation, we can make households more active on the electricity network by remotely offering household loads to balance the intermittency of renewables, without disturbing the comfort of the homes.

Read more about the Virtual Power Plant product and the Finnish pilot: https://www.fortum.com/en/corporation/research-and-development/virtual%20power%20plant/pages/default.aspx 

We are currently operating the world’s first commercial pilot of a concept of this type, together with the Finnish Transmission System Operator Fingrid. In order to let more households become active and to be a part of the digitalisation of the energy sector, we are now moving forward with commercialization in Finland and expansion through upcoming pilots in Sweden.

With the Virtual Power Plant, we can combine the energy sector, digitalisation and the growing demand for balancing power due to an ever increasing rate of solar and wind power penetrating the electricity markets. As emphasized during the seminar, digitalisation enables us all to become an active part of building a greener and more sustainable future.

Oskar Ekman, Project Manager, R&D at Fortum

 

vpp_illustration

Energia-alan murros vaatii entistä suurempia panostuksia tutkimus- ja kehitystoimintaan

Heli Antila

Posted by: Heli Antila
6.11.2015

Energia-ala on mullistusten kourissa. Taustalla vaikuttavat globaalit megatrendit, kuten ilmastonmuutos, kaupungistuminen, digitalisaatio ja kuluttajien uudet tarpeet. Euroopassa oman lisänsä tuo vaikea taloustilanne. Näemme, että tänä aikana, jolloin energia-ala hakee suuntaa, alan tutkimus- ja kehitystyön merkitys korostuu entisestään.  Tarvitsemme päätöksenteon tueksi lisää ja syvempää analyysia erilaisista tulevaisuuden vaihtoehdoista.  Me Fortumin säätiössä olemme vastanneet tähän tarpeeseen jakamalla apurahoja tänä vuonna poikkeuksellisen suurella summalla – 700 000 eurolla. Kasvua viime vuoteen oli lähes 150 000 euroa.  Säätiölle osoitetuissa hakemuksissa meitä innosti erityisesti se, että monet niistä kohdistuivat tulevaisuuden energiajärjestelmän keskeisimpien haasteiden ratkaisuun.

Näitä haasteita ja alan viimeisintä kehitystä tarkastelimme säätiön vuosittaisessa seminaarissa. Tänä vuonna keskityimme Euroopan Unionin energiapolitiikan muutoksiin sekä puhtaiden polttoaineiden ja Kiinan kestävän energian kehitykseen.

Ylijohtaja Riku Huttunen työ- ja elinkeinoministeriöstä valaisi seminaarissamme EU:n energiapolitiikan kolmea peruspilaria: kilpailukykyä, toimitusvarmuutta ja kestävyyttä. Pariisin ilmastokokous ja Ukrainan kriisi siivittävät niin kutsutun energiaunionin kehitystä. Uusi komissio onkin ottanut aiempaa kokonaisvaltaisemman näkemyksen unionin energiapolitiikkaan ja integraation odotetaan nopeutuvan erityisesti kaasu- ja sähköinfrastruktuurissa. Tutkimusmaailmalta Huttunen toivoi ratkaisuja ennen kaikkea uusiutuvan energian laajamittaisemman käytön mahdollistaviin energiavarastoihin.  Samaa uusiutuvan energian varastointiteemaa edusti myös Aalto-yliopiston professori Outi Krausen näkemys, jonka mukaan korkealaatuiset hiilivety- ja biopolttoaineet ovat jatkossakin keskeisiä, mutta pidemmällä aikavälillä meidän pitää pystyä muuttamaan myös aurinkoenergiaa liikenteen polttoaineeksi.

Yksi säätiömme apurahan saajista, Tommi Yu, tohtoriopiskelija Tsinghuan yliopistosta esitteli Kiinan energiantuotannon kestävää kehitystä. Sanan mukaisesti kestävä kehitys kääntyy kiinaksi “kykynä jatkuvaan kehitykseen”, ilman laadullista näkökulmaa.  Hiilen suhteen tämä tarkoittaa Kiinassa esimerkiksi sitä, että silloinkin, kun hiiltä on erittäin vaikea korvata, on tärkeää käyttää sitä energiantuotannossa puhtaammin ja vastuullisemmin. Sama pätee maan mittaviin liuskekaasuvarantoihin. Ydinvoimassa Kiina panostaa erityisesti reaktoriturvallisuuteen ja ydinjätteen loppusijoitukseen. Kiinan energiapolitiikan suuntaa ohjaavat energiatehokkuus, ilmansaasteet ja puhdas energia. Haasteina ovat muun muassa väestön ja energiankulutuksen kasvu ja toimitusvarmuus.

EU:n ja Kiinan energiapolitiikka olivat seminaarimme kantavia aiheita ja kansainvälisyyttä peräänkuulutamme alan tutkimukselta jatkossakin. Olemme sitä mieltä, että rahoittamamme tutkimuksen tulee kiinnostaa myös Suomen ulkopuolella. Meitä ilahduttaakin erityisen paljon se, että Fortumin säätiön toimintaa arvostetaan myös kansainvälisesti. Osoituksena tästä, säätiö teki yhteistyösopimuksen Cambridgen Yliopiston Energy Policy Research Groupin kanssa ja jakoi kaksi apurahaa, jotka oikeuttavat opiskeluun ja tutkimustyöhön Cambridgessa. On hienoa, että voimme tukea opiskelijoita entistä paremmin näinä taloudellisesti haastavina aikoina ja että säätiömme toiminta kasvaa ja kehittyy.

Heli Antila
teknologiajohtaja, Fortum
hallituksen varapuheenjohtaja, Fortumin Säätiö

Jouni Keronen
asiamies, Fortumin säätiö

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Fortumin säätiö:
Fortumin säätiö tekee merkittävää työtä rahoittamalla tulevaisuuteen suuntaavaa luonnontieteellistä, teknillistieteellistä sekä taloustieteellistä tutkimus-, opetus- ja kehitystyötä energia-alalla. Fortumin säätiö sai tänä vuonna säätiö 159 hakemusta ja hakijoista 42:lle myönnettiin apuraha.  Säätiön jakama summa oli yli 700 000 euroa. Säätiön kunniapalkinnon sai tänä vuonna professori Outi Krause Aalto-yliopistosta. Krause on tehnyt uraa uurtavaa tutkimusta biopolttoaineitten parissa ja toiminut alan johtotehtävissä, muun muassa Kemian tekniikan korkeakoulun dekaanina.

Kaikki vuoden 2015 apurahojen saajat löytyvät täältä:
http://www.fortum.com/fi/konserni/linkit/fortumin-saatio/myonnetyt-apurahat/Pages/default.aspx

Silicon Valley is a mindset

Heli Antila
Posted by: Heli Antila
9.10.2015

I had the honour of participating in a trip to Silicon Valley with Fortum Innovation Challenge winners Beichen, Liza and Gergely and their mentors. Fortum Innovation Challenge is an open innovation competition that Fortum organized last winter. Beichen Chen, Liza Staravoitava and Gergely Horvath elaborated on their winning ideas over the summer at Fortum’s premises in Stockholm and Espoo. Now it was time for the final prize – an innovation trip to Silicon Valley.

We ourselves also “walked the talk” of new technology. This meant using Uber cars and AirBnB accommodations for the first time in my life. We rented a house with an amazing view in the neighbourhood where Steve Jobs lived. Our hosts were extremely friendly, bringing us pizza on the first evening when we arrived tired from the flight and driving us the next morning to our first meetings in San Francisco. We used Uber cars several times. Mostly, the experiences were very good; we got to hear a lot of different kinds of stories – from jokes told by an originally British driver to a gentleman from Belarus, who was so delighted that one of our winners was also from Belarus. Almost always, the Uber wait time was less than 10 minutes and the drivers navigated to our destination with no problems.

During our stay, we met several energy sector players – from battery technology startups to established customer engagement companies. The clock speed is fast in Silicon Valley: since booking the meetings a few months back, one startup had raised USD 20M in capital and had doubled its size, whereas another startup had already stopped operating, due to lack of financing. So, if large companies like us want to cooperate with startups, we have to expedite all our internal processes for cooperation. I was also proud of the ability of our student winners to contribute in the meetings with well-defined questions and conclusions.

The highlight of the trip was a visit to the Tesla factory in Fremont. The tour proceeded on small trains like those at Universal Studios, starting from battery cells and wires and ending at the finished cars. The factory was originally owned by GM and later by Toyota. For a while, it seemed that there would be no future for the electric car industry in the USA, but Elon Musk showed otherwise. With a vision of a better world with electric vehicles, he has developed a high-end consumer product and the factory is in operation again. Tesla has a proud and committed team. Elon Musk has even named each robot. One sign of Tesla’s mindset is a story about one of world’s biggest robots that they bought second-hand from the other side of the US. They got an offer from another company to move the robot to Tesla’s factory in one year. Musk did not accept the offer, and Tesla personnel did the same job in four months. And of course I had to buy some Tesla souvenirs; the coolest one is the baby body with the text, “It’s all electric, baby.”

Tired, sitting on the plane on my way back home, I opened the October issue of Norwegian’s customer magazine and found a story about Fortum’s HorsePower concept. Not only did it make my day, it added to my feeling that young, innovative minds and a willingness to try new ideas is what will move this world towards a brighter future.

Once more, congratulations to our student winners. Remember, “Silicon Valley is a mindset, not a place.”

Heli Antila
Chief Technology Officer
Fortum

P.S. Our next competition, where we look for innovative consumer products for our customers, is directed to startup companies. The competition is still open to applicants. The winner will be announced at the Slush startup event in November in Helsinki.