Green energy from Jokilaaksot and nearby municipalities

Europe is undergoing an energy transition, and actions are needed. We need clean energy, produced sustainably and efficiently. In the short term, we have few alternatives for transition. For example, burning forest biomass and peat in central boilers gives us a few extra years to implement new, sustainable solutions for generations to come, and invest in ecological nutrient recycling. In Finland, there are plans for €10 billion investments in green hydrogen produced with surplus emission-free electricity, as well as a hydrogen gas pipeline following the west coast from Sweden-Finland to Germany. Municipalities in Jokilaaksot also aim to be at the forefront of the energy transition. An example is the initiative to build a hydrogen pipeline from the west coast towards the inland. And the plans don't stop there.
aurinkopaneeleita ja tuulimylly

According to a study conducted by the regional development organization NIHAK, wind power projects that are either under construction or in progress in Jokilaaksot and neighboring municipalities could account for up to half of Finland's onshore wind power production – as the area is crossed by two 400 kV and two 220 kV main grids and hosts several power stations. Additionally, plans are underway to build three new main grid backbone lines that could support up to five new 400 kV lines. For comparison, along the coast, there are 400 kV and 110 kV lines. Fingrid has published various scenarios, but the essence is that Jokilaaksot and neighboring municipalities will produce climate-friendly energy from different sources significantly more than the current levels.

Electricity and hydrogen economies based on wind and solar power are not the only goals for municipalities in Jokilaaksot. Action has been taken in the field of biogas and biofuels as well. Examples include the production of liquefied biogas and e-methane in Nivala, bio-charcoal, e-methane, e-ethanol and lignin in Haapavesi, as well as bio-oil and in Haapajärvi. EU regulations and profitability assessments will determine which projects ultimately come to fruition.

Finland as a pioneer and model for green hydrogen economy

Green hydrogen economy is being praised as the future energy solution produced from surplus climate-neutral electricity. There are plenty of milestones along this path, with fusion energy potentially awaiting at the finish line. Hydrogen, being the lightest element, easily permeates materials, which makes it challenging to transport, store, and prone to ignition.

Finland's expertise in materials technology is globally recognized as cutting-edge, giving us the opportunity to lead the way in areas such as the hydrogen economy and serve as a model for tackling energy challenges across Europe. Political decisions are currently pivotal in determining whether we are the driver or a passenger on this progress.

Hydrogen can be synthesized into e-methane, for example, in the type of biomethane production facility planned for city of Nivala. Many biogas plants are already pushing biomethane into the gas grid constructed by Gasgrid (the national gas-pipe grid owner and maintain enterprise) to replace the empty import of natural gas In Finland. The pipeline ends north of Tampere, but there's nothing stopping the line from extending further north. There is already a distribution infrastructure in place for methane, along with industries using it. Hydrogen and biomethane can also be used to produce ammonia for fertilizers or as fuel for future shipping through "Power-to-X, Power-to-Y" -conversions. Of course, these conversions do consume more energy than they produce.

Consumption flexibility is also needed

In Finland, wind and solar energy have become renewable energy sources alongside "steadily" flowing hydropower. However, alongside these, electricity demand flexibility is needed, especially when the polar night and lack of wind stagnate over our Finland-maiden. According to the Finnish Meteorological Institute's wind power statistics, the monthly average wind speed follows the same curve from north to south. In other words, in Finland, wind energy is either produced or not – and in the "far north," one doesn't tan under the aurora borealis glow in the heart of winter. Carbon-neutral biofuels and emerging hydrogen production help balance our country's heat and electricity needs and keep wheels running smoothly. Bioenergy from the agriculture and forestry sector side streams also contributes to this effort.

Biogas from Nivala - when completed - the plant would be Finland's largest

According to the latest calculations, the yield from Nivala's agricultural side streams alone would be up to 120 GWh biogas energy per year. Studies on starting biogas production in Nivala have been conducted earlier by Valio and the state-owned company Gasum - after all, the municipality is proven to be the most potential in Northern Ostrobothnia for producing biomethane from agricultural side streams.

With the new winds blowing, it seems highly likely that a large-scale biogas plant will indeed be realized in Nivala. In addition, the carbon dioxide, raw biogas contains about 40% of CO2, is processed together with hydrogen to produce more e-methane. During the spring, multi-year preliminary agreements with farmers from Nivala and nearby municipalities for supplying feedstock to the plant and in return receiving the digestate (reject) back to fertilize fields are now crucial steps towards the investment. The planned processing capacity of 400,000 to 800,000 tonnes would generate about 160 GWh of biomethane annually, while also producing recycled fertilizers from the digestate. To put it in perspective, this energy content would cover, for example, the electricity and heating consumption of my own detached house of 18,000 kWh per year in just an hour, leaving a bit of backup power still available.

Companies involved in recycling fertilizers responded negatively to the growing demand a couple of years ago. Yara, the dominant player in the Finnish mineral fertilizer market, temporarily suspended orders for field and forest fertilizers in March 2022. While manure is valuable even when spread directly, its nutrient balance is not optimal for plant use due to excessive phosphorus content. The digestate produced by the biogas plant can be separated into fractions containing nitrogen and phosphorus, and further processed for easier application on fields – and as a result of this processing, even our noses won't wrinkle anymore.

Even if green energy production is secured, can the world truly be green or even greenish?

A central theme of green energy could be, for example, electric vehicles, which are seen as part of a green future. However, conveniently overlooked are issues such as the energy intensity, carbon dioxide emissions, and environmental impacts of mining and processing metals used in battery manufacturing. Not all raw materials for the battery industry can be obtained solely through recycling.
The prices of critical metals like lithium, cobalt, and nickel continue to rise, and their availability to meet demand is decreasing. Will there be enough metals for cheaper consumer-grade electric vehicles in a raw material-dependent battery industry, or will the big players consume them all? New, wallet-friendly innovations are needed to meet the demand of the battery industry unless there are new revolutions in the automotive industry.

Bioenergy production from agricultural, household, and various industrial by-products, as well as recycling nutrients and carbon "from land to land," is a crucial part of moving towards a green world, energy self-sufficiency, and general well-being. The automotive and machinery industries could be harnessed to operate, for example, on e-methane or e-methanol. An example is a tractor (in Finnish) converted to run on biogas at OSAO, for instance.

Workers and investments are needed

If even a one-third wind, solar, and e-fuel projects were realized in the Oulu Southern region Municipalities, the area would satisfy at least one-third of Finland's current electricity consumption. Overall, Finland is experiencing a "boom" in carbon-neutral energy production, which is a new money-making opportunity. But sustainable development portfolios carried by domestic and international investors are needed to finance the smoldering embers to burst into flames. Will the education in the bioenergy sector keep up, and where will we get workers for new facilities if projects are realized?

Employment for the youth in their own hometowns should be the primary step and goal. Fresh workforce and new entrepreneurs from various professional fields are needed to push the pace towards strengthening industry and local economy. The challenge lies in retaining educated youth in the area, especially when the growing green energy industry needs more local workers.

The COPOWER project, a Community Based Virtual Power Plant, aims to contribute to the ongoing energy transition in Europe. The goal is to leverage artificial intelligence and smart grid infrastructures to enable local communities to collaboratively produce, store, and manage their energy needs dynamically in balance with decentralized energy production and local consumption.

Through collaboration aimed at increasing the use of recycled nutrients and local bioenergy production, the goal of the BIOTUTO project is to promote new business opportunities related to the processing, procurement, and utilization of biomass. Pilot activities will take place in the Nivala-Haapajärvi -region, which has an unusually high feedstock capacity for biogas plants relative to its area. The objective is to create a carbon-neutral farm model that serves as an example for other farms in Finland.

Author: Markku Kananen, MSc in Engineering, Project Manager – COPOWER Project, Kerttu Saalasti Institute, University of Oulu, Future Manufacturing Technologies Research Group (FMT)