In terms of its regional market Göteborg Energi is not only western Sweden’s leading energy company, but is also the fourth largest, and indeed the biggest municipally owned energy company in the country as a whole. With a history that extends back to 1846, Göteborg Energi is deeply engrained within the energy market in district heating, electricity and gas supply, as well as newer utilities like telecommunications.
The company is perhaps most widely regarded as a district heating provider due to the massive expansion of this network between the 1950s and 70s. Driven by poor air quality within the city as a result of inefficient burning of oil and furnaces, this initiative has seen positive results in these environmental conditions. This is a demonstrable example of Göteborg Energi’s commitment to the creation of long-term sustainable energy solutions, and work to reduce the impact of its current operations on the environment.
As such in more recent years the business hopes to have become more renowned for its efforts in renewable energy production, targeted in those areas where its current strengths lie. As a long time electricity producer the move into wind power has not been a major step change for the business, whereas its second focus in the field of biogas has perhaps required greater consideration.
“The west coast of Sweden has been one of the forefront drivers when it comes to establishing biogas as a vehicle fuel,” comments Eric Zinn, development engineer of biogas at Göteborg Energi. “As early as the 1990s we introduced natural gas as a vehicle fuel, and this market has grown with the advent of biogas over the last decade to almost 40,000 gas powered vehicles in Sweden. Today we are focused on the production and refining of biogas to this vehicle fuel quality.”
In terms of bringing this alternative fuel source to the market Göteborg Energi owns a 50 per cent share of FordonsGas, alongside partner company DONG Energy, which is responsible for establishing a distribution network. As a result at present around 80 per cent of all municipalities in western Sweden have filling stations for bio and natural gas, of which biogas is achieving 50 per cent of the total of vehicle gas sold. “Currently FordonsGas is the only vehicle fuel supplier to have been awarded the Nordic Ecolabel approval for sustainability, which we are very proud of,” enthuses Eric.
“The vehicle fuel market has grown substantially but it is not the only part of the transportation sector struggling to find a sustainable renewable fuel to replace petrol and diesel. In particular alternatives such as ethanol and biodiesel have drawbacks in the heavy duty transport market, and only very recently has biogas been an option here. This is because the energy density of compressed biogas has not been good enough for the needs of these long-haul heavy duty vehicles, but we are now bringing online a new technology from the liquefied natural gas market which will enable us to produce liquefied biogas (LBG) that is condensed enough for this application,” he adds.
Although biomethane is not yet a 100 per cent replacement fuel it still represents a considerable step forward in renewable thinking at a current percentage of around 75 per cent LBG or LNG and 25 per cent diesel or bio diesel. With the fuel in place, and FordonsGas having established the first LBG filling station in Gothenburg at the end of 2010, the final development has been the serial production of methane-diesel engine trucks that can utilise this fuel. At present a corporate co-operative within Sweden has ambitions to roll out 100 of these trucks over the next few years, as well as exports to the UK and the Netherlands.
It is this co-operative nature that has allowed renewable fuels such as LBG to progress so far in a relatively short space of time, particularly in western Sweden. Although Göteborg Energi has played a clear role in this, the business is aware that this development has not been achieved by any one single player but a combination of private sector and municipality support on a political level. On its own biogas may not be the only solution to the world’s future energy and fuel needs, but it does offer many attractive qualities as a clean-burning, versatile, primarily waste-based product.
Aside from the obvious benefits of recycling industrial, agricultural and cultural wastes into a useable end product, this raw material also provides biogas with a greater security of supply, which is less prone to fluctuations in the market. The remaining bi-product is called biofertilizer and can replace the use of energy-intense and non-renewable commercial fertilizers. Of course the challenge remains in agreeing legislation regarding what waste can be re-used and how this must be handled in order to integrate this in a safe way into fuel production.
One of the most prominent developments for the future is Göteborg Energi’s major investment into the Gothenburg Biomass Gasification Project, GoBiGas, where the company undertakes biogas production from forestry waste by 2013. This is a crucial element in achieving the company’s ambitions for biogas. “The long term vision for the company is that when it comes to energy gases all of our gas supply will be from renewable sources. This may seem like a far-fetched strategy today, but at some stage this will be a physical reality. As one player in this market we cannot dictate that speed sludgeof transformation, but in the shorter term we are aiming to annually produce and sell the equivalent of one terawatt hour of biogas by 2020. This is comparable to about a third of our current consumption of natural gas and a 20 fold increase of our biogas production in 2010,” concludes Eric.