Future energy solutions

Passion for replacing fossil fuels also powers our R&D of new, sustainable and innovative CO2 -aware energy solutions.

Carbon sequestrating through afforestation in Morocco

In order to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, the actions taken should not be limited to local level – we must act globally and invest in innovative collaboration, and aim to put all means we know of to use. Sufficient emission reductions will not be achieved with only the current policies and mitigation tools. To examine and improve the utilization of carbon sinks, St1 has started a pilot project for researching sustainable carbon sequestering through afforestation in Morocco. The pilot project is implemented together with the Université Mohammed VI Polytechnique in Morocco and its affiliated fertilizer company OCP.

Over a period of three years, the pilot project will examine carbon sequestration by trees under various controlled conditions in Morocco. The research project involves testing seven tree species and various irrigation and soil improvement methods. The aim is to find the optimal growth conditions for large-scale, cost-effective afforestation and carbon sequestering.

In the course of the pilot project, 9000 seedlings are planted in the four-hectare research area. Planting has started in February 2019 at the two-hectare university research sites and finished in December 2019 at old two-hectare mining site. The first results show the need of irrigation, but also preliminary results for species growing very fast in these conditions. The field tests are directed and monitored by LUKE, the Natural Resource Institute of Finland.

St1 wants carbon sinks to be seen as an incremental tool, not a substitutive one. If carbon sinks are to become an official and commercial method of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, an internationally accepted verification method of carbon sequestration is also needed. Discussions with local people on their needs, potential collaborations and studies for scaling up the pilot project have already started with Finnish, Moroccan, and other international partners.

Climate change does not know national borders. Increasing carbon sinks through afforestation of arid and semi-arid unused areas can both remove carbon emissions and help people in areas affected by drought and desertification.

Affordable energy from Arctic winds

Norway's arctic coastline is known for its rough weather and beautiful landscapes, but less so for its excellent potential to produce affordable renewable energy. It may come as a surprise to many that Norway’s Arctic coastline could in fact be the best suited place for wind power production in Europe.

Arctic winds blow fast and they blow steadily. The region has high average wind production and the variability of production is 40% lower compared to inland forest areas. Even if balancing and grid access are accounted for, the cost of energy for Arctic wind power is very low. In fact, Arctic wind power is so cheap that it is more competitive to build a new wind power plant in the Arctic than operate an existing coal power plant. This is great news for the climate, if we can harness the potential.

St1 is part of the Arctic Energy Forerunners, a group of companies and research institutions seeking to make the most of this potential. The group - ABB, Eltel, Empower, GE Renewable Energy, Lappeenranta University of Technology, Spinverse, SSAB, St1, Tesi, ABO Wind, Outokumpu, Wicetec and Wartsila – is developing new forms of cooperation and partnerships to push for clean and cheap energy investments in the Arctic. They are also keen to pinpoint obstacles on the way of renewable energy projects and thus hasten the societal change needed to realize the potential.

The area of Finnmark in Northern Norway has some of Europe’s best wind resources, but currently investments are being slowed down by the lack of central grid connection to Southern parts of Norway and Finland.

St1 has been planning a wind park in Eastern Finnmark, Norway, with Grenselandet AS, where St1 is a minority shareholder. Permitting process has started for Davvi wind farm of 800 MW. If the central grid connection was in place, the park could provide much needed clean, affordable energy for the needs of heavy industry in the Arctic and around the Bothnian Bay. The demand will only grow as industries will decarbonise in the Nordic countries. Data centres that need huge amounts of energy are also set to become more common in the Arctic because of new data connections through the area.

Feasibility study on synthetic fuels pilot plant

LUT University and a group of companies including St1, have started a feasibility study for a synthetic fuels pilot production plant. The intended industrial scale pilot facility is based on the Power-to-x concept, and the target is to produce carbon neutral fuels for transportation.

The pilot plant would use CO2 from Finnsementti cement facility in Lappeenranta and the excess hydrogen from Kemira's production as the main raw materials. CO2 and hydrogen can be combined together in a synthesis process, giving synthetic methanol as a result. Methanol can be further processed into for example synthetic, emission-free transportation fuels. LUT University has piloted the production of hydrocarbon to replace fossil fuels on a laboratory scale since 2017.

The feasibility study would be located in Joutseno, Eastern Finland and it focuses on the production possibilities and profitability of transportation fuels including gasoline, kerosene, and diesel. "The use of fossil oil and gas as transportation fuels is coming to an end. They need to be replaced with carbon neutral fuels, which can be used in current engines and in this way set the CO2 emissions caused by transportation to zero. Recycling of CO2 released to the atmosphere by the industry offers a major opportunity for Finnish companies to advance carbon neutral fuel production", says Petteri Laaksonen, Research Director, LUT School of Energy Systems. He continues that the production costs for synthetic fuels are already reasonable in areas where the price of hydrogen or electricity is low.

Jarmo Partanen, professor and dean at LUT School of Energy Systems describes the interest towards the study as exceptional. "Decarbonizing traffic is a huge challenge, and it makes the pro-duction of carbon neutral fuels a rapidly growing business. This opens opportunities for a wide range of companies", Partanen concludes.

Q Power and St1 piloted synthetic fuel production

St1 and a renewable energy start-up Q Power launched in September a joint project for developing a novel way of making synthetic biomethane from carbon dioxide. In the pilot project, Q Power’s biological methanation technology utilised the carbon dioxide recovered from the production of waste-based ethanol at St1’s biorefinery. The bio-logical methanation technology was developed by utilising methanogenic archaea isolated from boreal peat. Biomethane can be used as a renewable fuel in traffic, in passenger cars as biogas or in liquefied form in shipping, for example.

The pilot project was implemented at St1’s Etanolix® biorefinery in Vantaa, where advanced ethanol is produced from bakery waste for use as a traffic fuel. Q Power’s methanation unit was integrated with the biorefinery. The pilot phase lasted three months, during which the concept was tested, and its technical and economic scalability specified. A refuelling station was connected with the pilot unit, from which the gas vehicles participating in the pilot was directly filled with biomethane produced in the process.

The pilot project was an excellent success, the goals set for it were achieved and the results were as desired. The carbon dioxide by-product recovered from the production process of our plant was very well suited to the process. From the pilot phase, Q-Power will continue to scale its technology to production scale in cooperation with St1.

Q Power’s technology offers concrete solutions for combatting climate change. In the broad scale, biomethane will play an important role especially as a renewable fuel for heavy duty vehicles and in shipping. The concept also offers the possibility to store energy and can thus be used as an energy storage for renewable energy.

”Combating climate change calls for both sustainable fuels and capturing the carbon already present in the atmosphere. Q Power’s technology has vast potential to transform carbon dioxide from different industrial processes into sustainable fuels. We consider the concept very interesting from the point of view of converting the carbon dioxide flows from our own oil and biorefineries as well as other industry into sustainable fuels”, says Patrick Pitkänen, Director of Biorefining Business Development at St1.

Renewable diesel production in Gothenburg

St1 is building a new renewable diesel plant at its oil refinery in Gothenburg. The biorefinery will have an annual capacity of 200,000 tons of renewable diesel production and is expected to commence its operations in 2023. The combined value of related investments will be in the order of EUR 200 million. The design brings flexibility to the process allowing a wide range of feedstocks to be used. The unit can meet the current and future specifications for renewable fuels to be produced, such as HVO diesel, jet fuel, and naphtha. The produced renewable fuels will have significantly lower CO2 emissions compared to traditional fossil fuels. Preparations for the procurement of feedstock for the plant and related negotiations with various partners are ongoing.

As the first step, the construction work of the new hydrogen unit in Gothenburg was finalized at the end of 2019 and the unit was successfully commissioned in 2020. In addition, the civil construction work at the Green Process Unit started at the St1 refinery last year, along with the erection of new storage tanks related to the project.

New raw materials and enzyme development

Searching for potential waste-based feedstock for biorefining

St1’s research and development laboratory is testing and screening new potential raw materials to be used as feedstock in biorefining. 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 biorefining process. According to EU regulations, advanced bioethanol 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 industry residues. St1 is also looking in Thailand, where there is a great potential in cassava starch production waste. Our pilot tests in the laboratory have discovered that waste from cassava starch production is one of the best feedstock sources for our Etanolix® technology.

St1 has an ongoing research program to develop its own enzyme for cellulosic ethanol production. Enzyme use cost is one of the major cost components in cellulosic ethanol production. Our aim is to set up our own enzyme production on-site for our next Cellunolix® biorefinery investment.

Production optimization

Optimizing the different production phases and deliverables

St1 scientists are working closely together with the process engineers and business developers to develop future biorefineries. New processes are first studied in the laboratory at very small scale until they are ready to be transferred to the process engineers for designing industrial scale plants.

St1’s biorefineries also produce products  other than advanced ethanol, which are important to the overall cost efficiency of the process. For example, one co-product of our St1 Cellunolix® 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. Other valuable co-products are turpentine and furfural. As our production volumes increase, we are looking for higher added value use to the process co-products, e.g., in the steel, concrete, fertilizer or plastics industries.

Cellunolix® biorefinery concept optimization and construction

The demonstration plant, built in Kajaani in 2017, is the first of its kind in the world to produce advanced ethanol from coniferous sawdust. We continue to develop new, advanced ethanol production technologies with a strong focus on ligno-cellulosic feedstocks.

Based on the pilot project in Kajaani, letters of intent have been drawn up concerning the construction of industrial scale Cellunolix® plants in Pietarsaari, Finland, and in Hønefoss, Norway. The final decisions on the implementation of the next production plant, the annual capacity of which would be 50 million litres, will be made after the completion of the project in Kajaani. An expansion of similar size may also be implemented in Kajaani.

Production of advanced ethanol from cassava waste

In our research, we have discovered that waste from cassava starch production is one of the best feedstock sources for our Etanolix® technology. In 2017, we launched a pilot project for the production of bioethanol from cassava starch waste, with the aim of setting up a joint venture for ethanol production in Thailand.

Thailand is a forerunner in the use of renewable energy. The country uses over 3 million litres of ethanol per day as transport fuel, and the Thai government plans to raise the consumption to 11.3 million litres per day by 2036. The amount of cassava starch production waste generated by Thailand’s largest starch production plants would enable the construction of units producing 10 – 30 million litres of ethanol annually. Our goal is to build as many as 20 Etanolix® plants in Thailand, with a combined production capacity of 400 million litres of ethanol per year.

Renewable diesel production

In 2017, a decision was made to invest in a new hydrogen manufacturing unit which was built in the Gothenburg refinery. This was the first step in a series of planned investments, which will enable the refinery to start the production of renewable diesel in 2023. The target is to produce 200,000 tonnes of renewable diesel annually.

Geothermal heating plant

St1 started a pilot project in spring 2015, in order to search for opportunities to use geothermal heat from the Finnish bedrock in district heating and to build Finland’s first industrial scale geothermal heating plant in Espoo. The drilling of the over 6 kilometres deep production wells began in spring 2016.

The challenge of the project is Finland’s hard bedrock, which even the specially manufactured drills have been having difficulties to get through. Also, the following phase, the so-called stimulation phase, where the absorption capacity of the crystalline rock is studied, is expected to be challenging.  If successful, the pilot project will offer a renewable, zero-emission energy source and could produce approximately up to 10 per cent of the district heating of the city of Espoo.

The main goal of the project is to test and develop technically and financially profitable solutions for the geothermal business concept so that it can be commercialized after the pilot.