In a pollution-reduction trifecta that promises to stand as a model for other alternative energy projects in Asia, the Swedish company Scandinavian Biogas Fuels has begun operation of a new plant in South Korea that will convert sewage and food wastes into fuel for industrial processes. SBF says the plant, located in the industrial port city of Ulsan, will stop ocean dumping and cut carbon dioxide emissions while generating its own financing from sales of biogas fuel and carbon credits.
Integrated with the Yongyeon sewage treatment facility, the Ulsan biogas plant is designed to help local waste management authorities meet tough new Korean regulations that will outlaw discharges to the sea in 2012. “Korea’s national government is very serious about reducing the country’s high levels of pollution, and the mayor of Ulsan, Bak Maeng-woo, has made it clear that he wants to take the lead in this field,” says Annika Andersson, Process Director at Scandinavian Biogas Fuels. “He wants to make Ulsan a green city, and this is one element of that plan.”
The Ulsan plant has capacity to process about 180 metric tons of solid waste per day, and will produce some 9.8 million cubic meters of biogas each year. The gas is piped to a nearby industrial facility where it is used as a replacement for petroleum-based fuels to heat process water. The reduction in fossil fuel consumption is estimated at the equivalent of 11,700 tons of carbon dioxide per year. In partnership with another Swedish company, Tricorona, SBF hopes to generate financing for expansion by selling carbon emission rights under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism, or CDM.
The CDM arrangement allows industrialized countries that have committed to a greenhouse gas reduction to invest in projects that reduce emissions in developing nations as an alternative to more expensive reductions in their own countries. Pending approval for the exchange by the United Nations committee that oversees the CDM, the deal will provide a boost to the project’s guaranteed income from waste treatment fees and sales of biogas.
“Our cooperation with Tricorona will give further traction to our plans to expand in Korea and other countries,” Andersson says.
The head of Tricorona’s tech transfer operations, Marco Berggren, says the substantial and verifiable climate benefits of the Ulsan project should lead to its approval under CDM. “We hope to help Scandinavian Biogas open new markets in India and China, where we have been active for several years and where there is huge interest in low-impact energy solutions,” Berggren says.
Toward high-value uses
A substantial environmental benefit of the project comes from reducing by about half the weight and volume of the treated wastes. The solids remaining after digestion could theoretically be used as agricultural fertilizer, but because of toxic heavy metals that inevitably enter the waste stream, this practice remains impractical. However, the solid fraction still contains enough energy value to be disposed of through burning.
Despite the heavy metal problem, Andersson praises South Koreans’ willingness to carefully separate their trash. “The Koreans are extremely good at source separation of waste,” she says. “Here in Sweden we have to deal with plastic and other undesirable materials getting into the waste stream. We get excellent waste to the plant in Korea, and that cuts our costs for pre-treatment.”
In the long run, SBF hopes to supply biogas fuel for higher-value use in vehicles. “Biogas is used to power municipal busses in Sweden,” Andersson explains. “But before taking that step, our Korean partners want to see that we can fulfill our commitments and produce biogas that’s as good as natural gas. It’s still early, but I expect we’ll get there within a few years.”
The Ulsan project is the first full-scale commercial venture for the four-year-old SBF, although the company has provided consulting services and technology licensing for smaller undertakings together with Swedish municipalities. In Korea, SBF is looking to demonstrate a much more ambitious business model, in which the company owns and operates production facilities for the long term.
Andersson says Sweden’s well-established image as an environmental leader was an important reason SBF won the Korean contract. “Sweden is among the world’s best in biogas production because we’re good at managing the entire chain, from incoming waste to digestion technology to fuel delivered to the customer,” she says.
Article published in September 2009