Jyväskylä Human Technology City

Biogas expertise - the new export winner

In Central Finland the biogas branch has been designated an area of expertise in which the intention is to be better than the rest.

Fuel supply systems, especially those for biofuels used at power stations, district and real estate heating systems based on renewable energy sources, pellet energy systems and biogas systems have been selected as bioenergy-branch areas of strength in Central Finland. "One special area for players in Central Finland could be small-scale biogas upgrading technology," quotes Development Manager Markku Paananen from the Dynamic Bio­energy Cluster Programme as an example.

"The region's strength is also technology appropriate to cold weather conditions," adds Development Director Annimari Lehtomäki from Jyväskylä Innovation. As biogas markets expand around the world those specialists who are used to managing large entities and complete deliveries will find themselves in demand.

Lehtomäki points out that branch specialists in Central Finland are familiar with many biogas pro­cesses from start to finish.

Individual players rarely have mastery of the whole repertoire, therefore in Central Finland by means of cooperation between companies and various development projects resources have been combined and opportunities for international operations opened up for small and medium-sized enterprises as well.

In addition to business activity the Jyväskylä

Region possesses extensive experience of top-flight research in the field of biogas. Research has been conducted in the region e.g. into the suitability of different raw materials for biogas production, the use of biogas for transport purposes as well as the environmental efficiency of the biogas process and the productization of other end products generated by the process. The University of Jyväskylä has a strong concentration of biogas-branch research at the Department of Biological and Environmental Science.

Good export products for companies

A vision extending to 2015 casts Central Finland as one of the world's most developed bioenergy markets and the leading bioenergy expertise cluster in Finland. Where biogas is concerned the aim is to more than double its use by the year 2015 in both electricity and heat production as well as in transportation.

Efforts will be made to turn the export of biogas technology and expertise into a Central Finland success story. It is estimated that the value of such exports will grow to approximately 20 million euro a year by 2015.

In order to achieve these goals, development measures have been focused on a limited number of areas of expertise in which there is already entrepreneurial activity in Central Finland and in which there are markets from the perspective of the region's own energy supply. "Knowhow capital will increase when we first develop new systems for the region's own use. This will then generate quality export products which offer small firms tremendous growth potential," Paananen outlines.

In Central Finland a major effort is under way to ascertain the region's biogas potential, for instance, as well as the techno-economic preconditions for establishing a biogas distribution network.

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What is biogas?

- Biogas technology is based on microbial activity. Under anaerobic (oxygen-free) conditions microbes break down organic matter (for example manure, biowaste, plant biomass) in such a way that as an end product of decomposition biogas containing a large proportion of methane is generated.

- The typical composition of biogas is roughly 60 per cent methane and roughly 40 per cent carbon dioxide. In addition, biogas may contain small quantities of other compounds, such as hydrogen sulphide, ammonia, hydrogen and carbon monoxide.

- The methane contained in biogas is a versatile fuel which can be exploited in electricity and heat production and as a fuel for vehicles and machinery. Biogas can be used in place of fossil fuels.

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Visionary wants biogas to change the world

Erkki Kalmari is a well-known visionary, inventor and advocate of biogas. He himself drives a biogas-powered car, and the biogas generated on his farm goes into the tanks of about 15 vehicles in Central Finland.

"Around us lies a huge amount of energy which we could make use of as a transport fuel. If more extensive use was made of biogas it would generate more employment in rural areas and reduce the load on the environment," points out Kalmari, managing director of Metener Oy, a company operating in the Leppävesi area of Laukaa, a municipality to the north of Jyväskylä.

In his view biogas would offer an excellent solution to the emissions caused by traffic in China and India, for example.

Equipment functions under cold conditions too

Metener has been building cooperation with China for a number of years now. The real breakthrough into this new market was made when the company signed an agreement for the design of a biogas plant and the supply of biogas upgrading and pressurization equipment to the province of Heilongjiang in Northern China. Metener received help in building this cooperation from Jyväskylä Regional Development Company Jykes Ltd. and FECC, the Finnish Environmental Cluster for China-project.

Components for the biogas reactor are manufactured in China, while the equipment for upgrading and bottling the gas is made in Central Finland. "There are considerable opportunities in China for exploiting biogas. Simply in order to put the brakes on climate change China, and also India, must embrace solutions based on biogas," Kalmari stresses.

A challenge to producing biogas in the province of Heilongjiang is posed by the region's climate, which is known for its long, cold winters. One advantage of the technology developed by Metener is that the biogas reactors also function successfully in extremely cold weather conditions.

Photo: Erkki Kalmari, managing director of Metener Oy

words by tommi salo photos by janne nousiainen and plugi