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Electro-fuels an opportunity for Swedish pulp and paper industry – RISE report

The Swedish pulp, chemical, and paper industry could, with the right conditions, increase the production of renewable biofuels and biochemicals while taking a more active role in the electricity market. This is made possible by electro-fuel production according to the findings of a research project performed by RISE Research Institutes of Sweden together with BillerudKorsnäs, Nouryon, and Södra.

The Swedish pulp, chemical, and paper industry could, with the right conditions, increase the production of renewable biofuels and biochemicals while taking a more active role in the electricity market. This is made possible by electro-fuel production according to the findings of a research project performed by RISE Research Institutes of Sweden together with BillerudKorsnäs, Nouryon, and Södra.

In the project, which was co-financed by the Swedish Energy Agency together with forest industry majors BillerudKorsnäs and Södra and specialty chemicals major Nouryon (previously Akzo Nobel Speciality Chemicals), the potential of both existing processes and new electro-fuel processes to produce renewable hydrogen (H2) gas, methane (CH4) and/or methanol have been investigated.

The study has included analysis on both stand-alone pulp mills and integrated pulp and paper mills based on the current electricity market and future electricity market scenarios for 2030 and 2040. Recently published, the “Integration of the electrofuel concept in pulp and paper industry for a future electricity system in balance and a sustainable energy system with minimal carbon foot” project results show that the current electricity prices in combination with today´s market conditions for green fuels/chemicals put an end to electro-fuels.

However, with favorable scenarios for electricity price data, the results show that the pulp and paper industry has good prospects for increasing its activity on the electricity market and contributing with both flexibility and production of green fuels and chemicals.

By controlling power-demanding processes and introducing new electro-fuel processes and, for example, electrolysis of sodium sulfate, the benefits of available production capacity at the mills can be maximized simultaneously as renewables are produced integrated into a circular economy.

The pulp and paper industry are a gold mine when it comes to green carbon dioxide (CO2). If all the green carbon dioxide (CO2) annually emitted from the Swedish pulp and paper industry (approximately  22 million tonnes) were captured and reacted with renewable hydrogen, it would theoretically be enough to produce up to a few tenths of Mtons renewable methane or methanol. Volumes that can replace fossil alternatives with significant climate gains as a result, said Anna-Karin Jannasch, Project Manager from RISE.

Electricity the deciding factor

However, the study shows that the establishment of electro-fuel processes for the production of methane/methanol is not limited by the availability or the capture of CO2 irrespective of the type of facility. Instead, the establishment is limited by the availability of electricity at the mill and by the present market conditions for green chemicals and fuels.

In this case, the production costs for the electro-fuels were found to be higher (from around 10 percent up to the double cost, depending on the scenario) than the current market price. The production costs are however expected to decrease significantly as the investment cost of electrolysis and the cost of CO2 capture with time decrease.

The report gives the pulp and paper industry increased knowledge about the opportunities they have for increasing their activity on the electricity market and also how they in the future can act on a more volatile electricity market. The results also give the chemical industry increased knowledge in how they can create new values in the form of renewable chemicals and fuel in co-operation with the pulp and paper industry, said Anna-Karin Jannasch from RISE.

In addition, the project results can be the basis for an expanded map of various biorefinery concepts and can with advantage be linked and further developed with, for example, several ongoing projects for the production of green aviation fuels. The results can also be used by other industries that need renewable hydrogen and possibly oxygen and/or have large emissions of CO2. For example, the biogas, ethanol, cement, chemical, steel or power industry.

There are great advantages in re-using carbon dioxide in products instead of ultimately storage it – Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). In this way, a circular flow is created, which is enabled by electro-fuels. We see this as a knowledge-building project for the future and we follow the area with interest. said Catrin Gustavsson, Head of Södra Innovation and New Business.

About electro-fuels

Electro-fuels (e-fuels) is a generic term for synthetic fuels produced from electricity and water by electrolysis into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen can either be used directly as a fuel or raw material for industrial processes. It is also possible to let the hydrogen react into other products such as methane and/or methanol via reactions with carbon dioxide from flue gases.

In cases where the electricity for the water electrolysis and the carbon dioxide to build hydrocarbons is of renewable origin, renewable substances are formed that replace fossil fuels and chemicals. The interest in electro-fuels has grown rapidly in recent years, and today there are more than 40 demonstration and pilot plants in operation or under construction in Europe.To date, there is no facility on site in Sweden.

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