Experiencing Clean Tech

Many of us came on this consulting abroad project to see clean technology in action.  In Vasteras, we had a day full of clean tech activities.

Our day began with a visit to Mälarenergi, a municipally-owned energy utility serving the region in and around Vasteras.  Within Sweden, hydroelectric and nuclear power supplies the vast majority of electricity, with biomass and biogas accounting for a marginal percentage of the country’s electricity profile.  Prospectively, however, Sweden has plans to expand the use of biofuels – particularly in its district heating and cooling operations.

At Mälarenergi, we heard about the company’s operations and toured its facilities.  As the European Union moves towards its goal of 20% of energy use from renewable sources by 2020, utilities such as Mälarenergi must overhaul their operations to use wood residuals, waste energy, and other biomass products in place of fossil fuels such as peat or coal.

In the afternoon, we visited a biogas facility called VafabMiljo.   In Sweden, individual household separate organic waste (i.e., table scraps, etc.) from recyclables and other forms of solid waste.  The household waste is stored and processed in large anaerobic digesters – like the one featured below – which transform the organic waste into methane gas and fertilizer.

The end result is impressive.  Last year, the VafabMiljo plant produced enough biogas to displace 3.8 million liters of gasoline.   These results are real and tangible.  Almost all municipal buses in Sweden run on biogas produced at plants just like this one.

But biogas does have one main drawback – the production process generates one of the vilest and putrid smells imaginable.   As the bus rolled up to the digester, most students gagged.   My eyes watered, and I could taste the smell of garbage in the back of my throat.

Interestingly, one of our clients, Cortus, uses a bio-gasification technique that is odorless.  Accordingly, we all experienced first-hand how this product attribute represents a major competitive advantage when entering the U.S. market.

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