Novozymes joins, invests in Maabjerg Energy Concept, a new industrial energy system

April 26, 2012 |

A visualization of the completed Maabjerg Energy Concept project in Denmark

Finding synergy between biogas, ethanol and power generation – the Maabjerg Energy Concept promises a new approach to energy economics and sustainability, through the capture and re-purpose of industrial byproducts.

On a cold, rainy day, 29 months ago, along the windswept shores of Zealand, the Danish central island where Copenhagen makes its home on the eastern side, Inbicon launched at Kalundborg what was then (and remains for a few more weeks or months, until INEOS Bio’s operation becomes fully operational), the world’s largest cellulosic ethanol facility.

With a capacity under 2 million gallons, it was a small step, but observers were replete in hopes that the Inbicon technology would be shortly adopted around the world and that DONG Energy would give it a push in Denmark.

Last August, the Danish prospects for expansion took a leap forward with the launch of the Maabjerg Energy Concept, a highly ambitious effort to produce cellulosic ethanol, biogas, district heat, power, and a small amount of industrial CO2.

It’s an integrated design concept, as routinely developed, it seems, by the Danes, although rarely so comprehensively elsewhere. The consortium aimed to build a 2nd generation bioethanol plant, a hydrogen production plant and a waste treatment plant in Måbjerg. At the same time, the production of biogas by Maabjerg BioEnergy would be increased significantly, and the biomass-fired cogeneration plant Måbjergværket would be revamped.

Today, the project took a major step forward with the news that Novozymes had joined the project as a participant and investor.

“We invited Novozymes to join the consortium because we’re keen to have them help with a pilot study of the project’s potential,” says Jørgen Udby, CEO of Maabjerg Energy Concept. “Novozymes’ enzymes and biotech expertise are crucial for stable and profitable production of biogas and bioethanol from household waste and straw.”

Biogas production is already being phased in, and it is the synergies from producing both biogas and bioethanol that make Maabjerg Energy Concept unique, even by international standards. This potential for synergy is what, Novozymes tell us, attracted the Danish enzyme giant to the project.

Where is Maabjerg, anyway?

Maabjerg Energy Concept is located at the western part of Denmark, near the cities Struer and Holstebro in Jutland.

The project’s origin

The idea of the Maabjerg Energy Concept had been kicked around in West Jutland for a long time –  the advantages of industrial symbiosis had long been demonstrated at Kalundborg, where public and private enterprises buy and sell waste products from industrial production in a closed cycle. The residual products traded can include steam, dust, gases, heat, slurry or any other waste product that can be physically transported from one enterprise to another. A residual product originating from one enterprise becomes the raw material of another enterprise, benefiting both the economy and the environment.

For example, organic waste from Novozymes is made into agricultural fertilizer, while smoke from DONG energy’s plant is made into gypsum at Gyproc, while wheat straw from the region is converted into ethanol at Inbicon, whose lignin byproduct is burned by DONG Energy for electricity and district heat, in place of coal – including a feed of process heat and steam to power the Inbicon process.

According to the partners, the concept really started to take off when DONG Energy announced in 2010 that they would like to sell the biomass-fired cogeneration plant Måbjergværket. As a result, the local consortium was formed. However, because of problems in sourcing waste both currently and in future, the partners proposed to DONG Energy that they worked together to develop a completely new and future-proof energy supply, based on the newly developed concept.

The three key elements

Maabjerg BioEnergy was completed at the end of 2011 and will start commercial operation in April 2012. The plant will convert 550 000 tons of biomass to biogas annually. Maabjerg BioEnergy will be expanded to accept 185 000 tons of molasses from the production of bioethanol, as well as 77 000 tons of bioliquid from the domestic waste plant.

The Måbjergværket cogeneration plant was commissioned in January 1993 and produces electricity and district heating from straw, wood chips, domestic waste and sewage processing sludge, and natural gas. Måbjergværket will be revamped to primarily use 120,000 tons of lignin from the bioethanol process, 45,000 tons of fibre from the production of biogas and 16,000 tons of RDF waste as its future fuel.

Maabjerg Bioethanol will be built on the site next to Maabjerg BioEnergy. The plant will use 400 000 tons of straw and other annual plants to produce 2nd generation bioethanol, molasses and lignin. The plant will be based on the technology that DONG Energy developed in the Inbicon pilot plant in Kalundborg, Denmark.

The volumes

The planned volumes were impressive by second generation biofuels standards, on a global scale, and for Denmark, they are even more so. 18 50-70 million litres of bioethanol (13-19 million gallons) and about 44 million cubic meters of biogas annually, district heating will be produced for 20 000 households, and electricity equivalent to several thousand households’ consumption.

The feedstock for the project? 300 000 to 400 000 tons of wheat straw, corresponding to using about 6 to 8 percent of the agricultural land in a 50 km radius from Måbjerg. In addition, there is about 500 000 tons of biomass (primarily liquid manure), which was already planned for processing at Maabjerg BioEnergy.

At the time of the original announcement in August, the partners said that they would undertake a nine-month planning process to determine the feasibility of the project.

The integration features

The by-products from the production of ethanol will double the amount of biogas that Maabjerg BioEnergy can produce. By adding hydrogen – produced from wind turbine electricity – it will be possible to store and transport the biogas in the natural gas network. Finally, incineration of the by-products at Måbjergværket will provide district heating for 20, 000 households in Holstebro and Struer, as well as electricity for the electricity grid.

Novozymes joins in

“We’ve joined the consortium to help perform a pilot study of the technical and financial possibilities,” says Poul Ruben Andersen, Vice President for Bioenergy at Novozymes. “Maabjerg Energy Concept is a concrete example of how waste biomass can replace fossil fuels in various ways, and the plant has the potential to become a true biorefinery, an important step along the road to a biobased economy. Plants like this could be built all over the world, because they can use many different types of waste as inputs and produce many different kinds of outputs.”

“At a time when we’re battling to create jobs and safeguard our economic future,” Andersen added, while also producing sustainable energy. Novozymes has had this vision for many years, so it’s only natural for us to join the consortium and show that the technological capabilities are already there.”
Maabjerg CEO Jørgen Udby added, “The bio-based economy is just around the corner. If we can show that the technology works here in Denmark, we can then market the concept around the world, and Novozymes will be a valuable partner in this work.”

DONG Energy

Director Thomas Dalsgaard commented, “DONG Energy has already built up a lot of knowledge about biogas, enzyme treatment of biomass and the production of bioethanol, and we have already built a test plant. We are ready to scale up to full scale, and it is obvious that we should exploit the synergies in the existing plant in Holstebro. At the same time, we get the opportunity to test our new technologies for the utilisation of waste.”

The Novozymes investment

Andersen cautions that the investment is small and “symbolic”, and reiterates that Novozymes is not heading into the business of producing ethanol. “If successful, we see other applications for the technology and we want to see that validation of the technology at commercial scale.”

The project’s timeline

The project is going through the feasibility process right now, but is expected to be complete by 2016.

The bottom line

Without a doubt, the most compelling industrial location in the world, from the point of those who support both economic progress and sustainability, is the Kalundborg Symbiosis. The Maarbjerg Energy Concept, if it pencils out in the feasibility work now well underway, would rival that project as a pointer towards the future in sustainable, integrated energy systems, built by major players but not reflective of the “yesterday is fine” vision that major players are supposed to have.

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