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Green gold and green forests

Green advisor

Green gold and green forests

Sweden is to become one of the first fossil-free countries in the world. Just over one third of the carbon dioxide emissions in Sweden today are generated by road traffic. The question of what fuel we should use in future is a decisive one in the shift to a more sustainable society. Part of the answer can be found at SunPine in Piteå.

Between 2014 and 2015, the number of cars in Sweden increased by thirteen percent, achieving a new national record. The transport sector is today the sector in Sweden that emits the largest amount of greenhouse gases. As part of a longterm vision of a fossil-free society, the Swedish government of 2009 set the goal of Sweden attaining the status of having a fossil-free vehicle fleet by the year 2030. Among other things, 90 percent of the available propellants in 2030 should be renewable.

For the transport section to transition into a sustainable sector, there is a crucial need of a changed behavioral pattern in consumption, as well as innovation for fuels. One of those driving development towards renewal of the propellant industry is Sweden’s SunPine. The Piteå-based company is the first in the world to extract green diesel from pine oil. Pine oil, or tall oil, is a residual product from the pulp and paper industry and is the base of the company’s two renewable main products; tall diesel, which becomes green diesel after refining, and resin, raw material used for the manufacture of paint and adhesive. Also a residual product of refining tall oil is bio oil, which is sold back to the forest industry, where it is used as green fuel oil in pulp mills.

The products contribute to a reduction in green house gas emissions, the production chain also becomes more circular. “In this way, the forest industry can use their own residual products as propellants in their transports and fuel for their boilers. This reduces the need for fossil diesel”, Peter Kaarle, consultant at ÅF’s Piteå office, which has supported SunPine with technical project management and processing since 2008, explains.

An internationally unique idea

The idea of extracting green diesel from tall oil comes from Lars Stigsson, who in 2005 noticed how this could be possible. A model of the extraction process was created together with chemist Valeri Naydenov. A working production facility was built in record time.

“It’s unusual to go directly from laboratory scale to full production facility. We skipped the step of building a small scale factory as we were so convinced it would work”, Peter tells us.

Some of Sweden’s major forest industries were quick to invest in the venture, as they also saw the potential in this unique idea. The first production of propellant containing tall diesel on the market was introduced in 2010 – Preem’s Evolution Diesel.

Today, almost 100,000 cubic metres of tall diesel are being extracted every year at the facility in Haraholmen outside Piteå. Tall diesel is sold mainly to the propellant industry, which removes sulphur and oxygen and then adds fossil diesel. This generates a new propellant that contains up to fifty percent renewable raw material.

More than 100 new jobs

SunPine products have contributed to more than one million tonne reduction in greenhouse gas emissions since production started in 2010. In addition to these obvious environmental benefits, the business has also brought several positive affects for Piteå as a region. In recent years, a whole new industry has been built from scratch. More than a hundred new jobs have been created, directly or indirectly, within a number of different disciplines. Production has created a more vibrant rural area.

The eco-industrial park now continues to grow. Lindbäcks Bygg, a company that manufactures apartment blocks in wood, is building a factory in the vicinity of the company’s facility, which uses spill heat from SunPine in its production. The cycle is growing, to the benefit of the environment, health and social economics.

Magnus Edin is CEO of SunPine and believes in big opportunities ahead.

“We’re looking at the possibility of developing new products from this raw material. Among other things, from biooil you could extract sterols, a substance that reduces cholesterol and can be used in medicines.

He is convinced production capacity will increase.

“Based on the national environmental goals, the production of tall diesel could be doubled and still not be sufficient. The demand is tremendous.”