The focus of our R&D efforts is on researching and developing economically viable,
environmentally sustainable energy solutions. We are looking for new cost-efficient solutions to produce renewable energy.
However, there is also a lot of development work done within our traditional business segments that are still mainly based on fossil fuels: we are constantly improving our fuel products to meet customer needs in terms of efficiency and environmental-friendliness.
Based on various sources, we have gathered our view of changes and challenges in the Nordic energy market for the next couple of decades. St1 Nordic Energy Outlook acts as a basis and roadmap for our R&D operations. An update to the first edition was published in 2017 and it will be updated again on a needs basis.
The future energy team of St1 focuses on the sustainable and feasible energy solutions of the future. We are looking at the entire field of renewable energy and searching for new potential technologies that can be commercialized.
We are exploring the opportunities of, e.g., energy storage systems and solar power in order to bring you new, smart energy options for the future.
The global energy challenge also requires a major increase in biological carbon sinks. St1 is piloting sustainable carbon sequestration through afforestation in Morocco. The goal of the pilot is to find the optimal solution for the use of land improvement and irrigation systems in cost-effective forest growth and carbon sequestration.
St1’s research and development laboratory is testing and screening new potential raw materials to be used as feedstock in advanced ethanol production. The research is focused on waste-based feedstock, the main feasibility criteria being the availability and cost-efficiency of the raw material and sustainability of the ethanol production process.
According to EU regulations, advanced ethanol can be produced from a limited variety of feedstocks outside the food chain. Especially in the Nordic countries there are plenty of non-food materials available – such as sawdust and forest residues. St1 is also looking to Thailand where there is great potential in cassava waste: the pilot tests in the laboratory have proved that it is a promising feedstock for the St1 EtanolixTM production process.
St1 scientists are working closely together with the process engineers and business developers to develop future ethanol plants. New processes are first studied in the bench scale laboratory at very small scale until they are ready to be transferred to the process engineers for designing industrial scale plants.
St1 ethanol production processes are also producing other products than advanced ethanol: so called by-products, which are important to the overall cost efficiency of the process. For example, one by-product of our St1 CellunolixTM process is lignin - a residue of the enzyme hydrolysis step, which can be used to produce biocrude and co-fed into the traditional oil refinery for renewable diesel production.
The emission-free energy form of the future is found underground. St1 is drilling to a depth of 6.5 kilometres in the bedrock under Espoo, deeper than ever before in Finland. The goal of the St1 Deep Heat pilot project is to build the first industrial-scale geothermal heat plant in Finland at Fortum’s heat plant in Otaniemi.
Geothermal energy is an exciting option when it comes to zero-emission heat production. The success of the pilot project may revolutionize Finnish heat production. St1 has prior experience in sustainably produced, renewable energy, and geothermal heat is a natural next step for the company.
A simple process challenged by hard Finnish bedrock
The process to harvest and utilise geothermal heat is quite simple. First, two boreholes/wells of 6.5 kilometres depth are drilled into the ground. One of the holes pumps water down to the bedrock in order to heat it as a result of the warmth in the earth’s crust. The hot water is pumped up via the other hole, and the heat produced is captured with a heat exchanger and fed into the district heating network. Once completed, the plant will produce up to 40 MW of energy. The heat produced by the geothermal heat plant will be purchased by Fortum for its district heating network.
Penetrating the hard Finnish granitic bedrock requires both a purpose-built drill and some persistence. First, we drilled a test borehole to a depth of two kilometres and analysed the data and rock samples for information on the crust needed for the actual production wells.
The drilling of the production wells first utilized air hammer drilling technology (often referred to as DTH drilling) to reach a depth of 4.5 kilometres. After this, drilling of the first well to the hard bedrock was continued with both water hydraulic hammer drilling technology and the traditional rotary drilling method. By optimizing these technologies, drilling has now reached a depth of around 6.5 kilometres, deep enough in the crust for a temperature sufficiently high for heat production.
Stimulation assesses the flow of water in the bedrock
Another challenging stage of the project is achieving water flow between the two boreholes. This phase is known as stimulation, in which it is investigated how water injected in the first well flows between cracks in the fractured zone of the bedrock. The purpose of stimulation is to pinpoint the direction to which the final stage of the second production well should be drilled, and to determine how water is made to flow between the holes deep underground. Geophones installed in the deep boreholes are used to monitor the flow of water in the bedrock.
The stimulation stage in Otaniemi was successfully completed in July 2018, after which the collected data on water flow has been under analysis. During the analysis phase and drilling pause there is time to optimize and further develop the drilling technology.
The heating plant is designed to cover up to 10 percent of the district heating needs of the city of Espoo. Success of the pilot project also means that the technology can be applied elsewhere.
Geothermal heat plants are already in use in countries such as France and the United States. Iceland, for example, has already been producing all its needed heat and half of its electricity needs with geothermal energy for years, thanks to its favourable geological location.
St1 Local Energy (St1 Lähienergia Oy) which focuses on local heating plants using ground source energy wells, is constantly working to improve the performance and cost-efficiency of heating systems. The company is involved in several R&D projects that are aiming to develop more efficient technologies as well as business and service models.
Improved system seasonal coefficient of performance by developing the borehole technology (over 1 kilometre) for ground source heating and cooling, as well as better control strategies through the utilization of IoT and ICT are examples of the objectives of our research and development projects in this area of operation. Also, further development of the “Heating as a service” concept and the electricity supply and disruption reserve market are focus areas.
Based on the corporate vision, our goal is to keep introducing more renewable energy solutions to the market. A good example of a renewable traffic fuel product is the RE85 high-blend ethanol for flexifuel vehicles. RE85 is manufactured using waste- and residue-based ethanol produced in our ethanol factories and it reduces fossil CO₂ emissions by up to 80%.
However, the majority of our business operations are still based on fossil fuels. Therefore we are constantly developing new fuels that enable more environmentally friendly driving in standard cars as well.
The ongoing RED95 ethanol diesel development and testing project studies the environmental impact and energy consumption of ethanol-powered trucks and buses. Scania buses using St1’s advanced waste-based RED95 are operating on two lines in the city of Helsinki, Finland. RED95 is also available for Norwegian trucking indystry at Grorud Shell station in Oslo.
The aim of the project is to increase the use of renewable fuels and reduce the amount of CO₂ and micro-particle emissions from transport.
In Norway, we have launched the REx Diesel fuel for test use in selected Shell stations in Oslo. REx is the country’s first genuine renewable diesel, which reduces CO₂ emissions by up to 40% from those of regular diesel.
In addition, St1 is planning to start the production of renewable diesel in our Gothenburg refinery.
Our vision translates to a goal to develop and commercialize functional and environmentally sustainable solutions and deliver these solutions profitably. Each solution must be technologically ready for use today.