Twenty-five years ago, textile company FOV Fabrics filed a patent for a unique silicone coated fabric for car airbags. Thin, low-weight and softer than alternatives, it reduced the risk of scratches and burns from the airbag inflation. Back then, the fabric was unmatched.

Airbags are now standard equipment in vehicles, and the once ground-breaking innovation has been exposed to competition. “We are still manufacturing airbag fabrics, but over the years, we have continued to develop other technical textiles with special properties”, says Fredrik Johansson, Business developer at FOV Biogas and Chairman of the board at FOV.

Biogas in one minute

Biogas can be used for vehicle fuels as well as electricity production and long-distance heating. The gas, primarily methane, is produced when microorganisms break down organic matter such as manure, sewage, or food waste in the absence of oxygen. The process is called anaerobic digestion, and occurs naturally in marshes, wetlands, and in the digestive tract of ruminant animals.

The amount of gas formed varies with the input material. A tonne of food waste may result in 400 cubic meters of methane. An equal amount of less digestible material, such as straw or forestry waste, would yield a lot less. Typically, biogas is produced by putting the biodegradable materials into a sealed and air-tight vessel, a digester.

”We are producing about three million running meters of fabrics annually. Half of this is for clothing, the other half for industrial applications. We have developed fabrics stronger than steel, and advanced functional textiles for many uses – ski wear, parachutes, cars and biogas reactors, for example. By applying silicone, PVC, polyurethane or other coatings to the fabrics, many different properties can be obtained”.

Advanced textile materials

Imagine a close container, a couple of cubic meters in volume, where organic waste can be disposed of; the waste is fermented, and the biogas generated in the digester is fed to a regular gas stove in the kitchen. Then imagine another reactor, the size of a shipping container, generating biogas for the production of electricity.

“Our reactors are made out of sophisticated textile and polymer materials. The coating of the fabric makes them gas-tight, highly durable, and chemical resistant. The reactors can be used wherever biodegradable waste is available, for example in the food industry, agriculture, or waste water treatment – and in both small and large-scale facilities. Development has been done in collaboration with Mohammed Taherzadeh, Professor in Bioprocess technology at the University of Borås”.

A focus on developing countries

”Our business concept is flexible and cost-efficient biogas production. Developing countries are important markets. The scalability of the reactors, with sizes ranging from two cubic meters to several thousand, is a major advantage. It is quick and easy to add another reactor or replace it with a bigger one”.

”The material makes the reactors light-weight and foldable, so storage and transportation costs are low. A phased-out reactor is easily disassembled and sold on the second hand market. They are long-lasting and resistant to high temperatures, UV radiation and process residue. A textile biogas reactor can actually resist an earthquake”, Fredrik says.

principskiss biogasreaktor

Biogas production in India

FOV Biogas and subsidiary FOV Biogas India have installed biogas reactors in Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai and other locations in India. The gas is used instead of LPG for cooking in local households. ”In Chennai, the feed material is waste from the sugar industry. The advanced textile reactor is easy to set up, operate and maintain. Not least important is the fact that it is very affordable compared to alternative systems”.

”Within one week after installation, the reactor is producing high-energy methane. The daily addition of 100 kg of sugar industry waste translates to 8 cubic meters of biogas every day. The amount corresponds to 65 LPG cylinders (19 kg per piece), and gives significant savings. We are expecting the payback time of this system to be 1.5 years, which is comparable to our other reactor installations – a palm oil mill waste digester in Indonesia, for instance”.

”In addition to the biogas, the residue of the process is a high-quality fertilizer, which can be used on the local soils. We see a great potential to produce both biogas and fertilizer in many countries – Brazil and Vietnam, for example. Food waste and organic industrial waste is definitely a largely untapped resource”, says Fredrik Johansson.

The article was published in September 2015