Ethanol can be produced with over 90% greenhouse gas (GHG) savings when compared to petrol, as brilliantly demonstrated by Lantmännen Agroetanol, Sweden’s largest ethanol producer. The secret of this exceptional performance lies in the fact that the ethanol plant is part of a integrated process whereby a biomass combined heat and power plant (CHP) supplies the energy needed for the ethanol plant to operate. In addition to ethanol, the plant also produces protein feed and “green carbon dioxide” which make it a perfect example of what specialists call “the biorefinery concept”–a facility that integrates biomass conversion processes and equipment to produce fuels, power, heat, and value-added materials from biomass.

The ethanol plant and the CHP, run by E.on, are located on Händelö, an island just on the outskirts of Norrköping on Sweden’s Baltic coast. The CHP plant delivers bioheat to the district heating grid of Norrköping, a city with over 100.000 inhabitants. The plant also produces biopower. The fuels used to run this unit are mostly woodchips, recycled wood and other types of biomass. All of Agroetanol’s energy needs for the processing of ethanol–such as drying, fermentation, and distillation–come from the CHP plant. This means no fossil fuels are used at all– that all of the electricity is renewable.

Grain from the region including wheat, barley, and triticale, are used as feedstocks for the ethanol production. To produce one litre of ethanol, 2,7 kg of grain are needed. Besides the ethanol, an additional 0,85 kg of protein feed is derived from the process. But this is not all–the carbon dioxide released during the ethanol fermentation is recovered and used to produce “green CO2”. This is done in a separate unit run by Aga/Linde, which produces 0,8 kg of CO2 per 2,7 kg of grain. Green CO2 is then sold to food industries including the producers of carbonated drinks, replacing CO2 produced from fossil feedstocks.

In the region Östergötland, an ambitious program has started to introduce “fossil free farming,” substituting fossil diesel with biodiesel for tractors and harvesters, as well as for grain dryers. This will reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from the ethanol produced in Norrköping and eventually make the supply chain 100% renewable and fossil free in the future. The ambitions of the Swedish biorefinery do not stop there: the development of protein-rich food products for human consumption is being considered to satisfy the growing demand for meat substitutes from vegetarian consumers. In the meantime, the use of waste products from bakeries and food stores – discarded bread for instance – is also considered as a potential feedstock for the factory.

Following Lantmännen Agroetanol’s success story, many bioenergy stakeholders all across Europe are currently developing similar initiatives in order to adapt and extend the biorefinery concept to local needs and feedstocks to make an optimal use of their resources.

Visit Lantmännen Agroetanol’s website to learn more about the project: http://www.agroetanol.se/en/ 

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