ABB control system helps turn food waste into fuel


Source: ABB

2009-08-18 - Small bioethanol plants in Finland are using local food waste to make a low-carbon gasoline and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. ABB’s Extended Automation System 800xA is making it possible.

St1 Biofuels Oy is the only bioethanol producer in the world making biofuel from food waste. The originators of the process say the fuel can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 80 percent.

The food-waste fuel is 85 parts ethanol blended with 15 parts gasoline components and additives, and is sold in Finland as Refuel or RE85. It requires a so-called 'flex-fuel' vehicle - millions of which are already in use around the world - but in return the consumer gets a break at the gas pump. RE85 is approximately 30 euro cents per liter cheaper than regular 95 octane unleaded gasoline, says Mika Aho, managing director St1 Biofuels Oy.

'Motorists now have a tangible means of cutting carbon dioxide emissions that accelerate global warming,' he said. 'We can influence climate change by our everyday choices.'

Easy to use

In contrast to systems of mass production seen in major markets like the United States, the St1 biofuel plants are located near the food waste source they need, usually on the sites of pastry, candy or potato manufacturers. The food waste used in the process is not edible.

The small Ethanolix processing units devised by St1 create a dilute biofuel using a process that is controlled by ABB's Extended Automation System 800xA. From St1's headquarters in Hamina, Finland, System 800xA communicates with the waste plants via a private virtual network, collecting plant data with ABB’s real-time database system for continual monitoring, reporting and analysis. It controls everything from when valves open and close, to the activation of safety locks and automatic cleaning.

The biofuel mixture is later concentrated at ST1's central dehydration plant at Hamina Harbor. Here it is blended with gasoline components and additives before being delivered to pumping stations around Finland as RE85. St1 says its small biofuel production plants are more economical than larger ones, because their locations at or near the sources of raw food waste mean less transportation, equipment and energy per liter of product is needed.

For additional cost savings, the biofuel stations operate without staff, although an operator makes weekly visits for maintenance. St1 is eyeing potential gains in market share as countries around the world face tighter emission standards to slow global warming. A European Union directive expects the market share of biofuels and other renewables against total gasoline and diesel sales should top 5.75 percent by the end of 2010. A similar target in Finland is now four percent, but is expected to keep pace with the EU directive.

Two St1 production sites, at Lappeenranta and Hamina, use waste from manufacturers of candy and baked goods. Each produces a million liters of ethanol per year from about 5,000 tons of inedible food waste like bakery paste, non-baked or baked bread that doesn't meet standards for consumption.

A third site at Närpiö is located on the site of a potato processor, creating a million liters of ethanol a year from potato slurry and starch waste water. St1 hopes to have from 10 to15 automated bioethanol plants in operation by 2014. A fourth site for food waste is in the works in Vantaa and a fifth, in Lahti, Finland.

In addition, the company will launch a new fuel process using biodegradable municipal waste in spring 2010 in Hämeenlinna, Finland. This is expected to produce a million liters of bioethanol and 5,000 tons of biofuel for heat and electricity from 15,000 tons of municipal biowaste previously composted to enrich soil.

The distillation process uses only renewable fuels.

'With all these processes we can produce about 100,000 cubic meters of ethanol per year in Finland by 2015,” says Dr. Antti Pasanen, a key player at St1 Biofuels Oy who developed the food-waste production method as a researcher with the Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT).

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