Everybody is talking about cleantech

04 maj 2018

Next summer, Skellefteå will host an international cleantech conference. Cleantech is a hot topic whenever sustainable industry, growth and the future are discussed. But what is cleantech and why is everybody talking about it? And what role will Skellefteå play in its development?

“In simple terms, cleantech applies to anything that concerns green technology, clean energy and sustainable solutions, as well as the conviction that environmental relevance should be the predominant driving force in the execution of business,” says Susanne Lindström.

Lindström is a project manager for North Sweden Cleantech, an innovation and export platform tasked with promoting the region around Västerbotten and Örnsköldsvik as a major player in the development of products, services and research associated with cleantech. Around 80 companies in the region are currently linked to the platform, which helps them generate increased interest in their cleantech-related activities.

World-leading research

The area around Skellefteå is particularly rich in cleantech-focused companies. Martinsons, Skellefteå Kraft, Node Pole, Eco-Oil and Northvolt are among those at the forefront of sustainability work and research being undertaken in their respective industries.

“This region is leading the world when it comes to research into bio-based materials. Anything that can be made from oil can be made from wood,” says Lindström, who goes on to list everything from clothing to aviation fuel.

This revelation makes it easy to understand the importance of biomaterials as societies transition from fossil fuel dependency. And this is exactly what cleantech is about – making the world more sustainable and creating better alternatives to conventional methods, while retaining profitability.

In this way, even a mining company such as Boliden can be classed as a cleantech company. In addition to the company’s much-heralded ability to recycle electronic waste, Boliden endeavors to refine the environmental dimension of all its processes. But cleantech can also comprise digital solutions such as, for example, an app that facilitates car-sharing.

Strong arguments

According to Lindström, there are many reasons to believe that the clean energy and the green solutions being generated in northern Sweden will make a major contribution to easing today’s climate-related problems. There are several arguments to support this case: the region has a highly-skilled population, is home to four universities, is ranked highly in innovation, and is a world leader in terms of metal recycling, to name just a few.

Even the region’s location is a huge asset, with a surplus of renewable energy from hydro, solar and wind power. Moreover, in a global context, this energy is also very cheap.

“There are probably very few of us who consider the impact we have on the environment when we spend time on Facebook, Amazon, YouTube, and the like, but the amount of energy consumed by these giants is enormous, and there is nothing to suggest that this is going to decrease. On the contrary. The problem is that their data farms are often situated in places where they are powered by electricity produced from coal,” says Lindström, who believes that companies will be forced to reconsider their approach once consumers understand the implications of these companies’ energy strategies.

And so eyes are now being turned toward northern Sweden. Facebook already has a gigantic data farm in Luleå, and the Node Pole company is working hard to promote the establishment of more facilities of this kind.

Modesty is an obstacle

However, there are also challenges. Northern Sweden is sparsely populated and is relatively invisible in both a national and global context. This makes it more difficult to attract investors and to find staff with the necessary skills. Things aren’t made any easier by the fact that the region is not renowned for blowing its own horn.

“There is much that we are good at, but northern Swedes are quite modest and need to be better at championing our own causes. Skellefteå, however, has been an exception to the rule. Skellefteå has stood up for itself, and this was clearly noticeable during its successful bid to lure Northvolt to the area. An important factor here was that this was conducted in concert with other agents in the region, and the local residents were also on board. Cooperation is of central importance,” says Lindström.

A strong global agent

This brings us back to the international conference planned to take place in Skellefteå in June 2019. It currently has the working title of Future Industries Meet-Up 2018 – Energy Edition. The focus will be on energy, the bio-based economy and smart cities.

“This will be an important element in positioning the region as a globally-strong agent in the development of sustainable solutions for the future. We are leaders in cleantech knowledge and innovation, and everybody needs to be made aware of this,” says Susanne Lindström.

 

Here are some examples of cleantech from the region:

Maize makes brewer more environmentally friendly

Envigas is a Skellefteå-based company that produces biochar, bio-oil and synthetic gas from biomass. In northern Sweden, this means that forestry waste can be turned into different types of fuel, but on a global scale, agricultural waste is much more common. In Mexico, which is one of the world’s biggest producers of maize, the waste is currently burned, but farmers there will soon be paid for the waste, which will then be converted into gas. The brewer Heineken has expressed great interest in using this gas as part of its environmental commitments.

Trees turned into fashionable clothing
Domsjö Fabriker produces a highly refined cellulose from spruce trees – this will be turned into viscose for use in the production of high-fashion clothing.

Forest becomes aviation fuel
Within ten years, domestic flights within Sweden may be powered using green fuel derived from forestry waste, following a breakthrough by researchers at Luleå University of Technology (LTU). A pilot project, currently in the planning stage, will be conducted at LTU Green Fuels’ plant in Piteå. It is expected that this technology will help generate enough fuel to power commercial domestic flights.

Zero Sun Project
Skellefteå Kraft is currently building a house in the Vitberget area of Skellefteå that will be powered solely by solar energy – despite the fact that, at our latitude, the sun is conspicuous by its near-absence for a long stretch of the year. The house has a unique energy system that utilizes the interaction of solar cells, batteries, electrolysis, geothermal heating, hydrogen gas and fuel cell technology. This system allows the house to store solar energy during the lighter times of the year for use during the dark winter. The house is expected to be completed by June 2018, after which it will be available for rental by the public.

Smarter travel
SpaceTime is a company from Umeå that has developed a cloud-based service that enables users to book the smartest travel options. It does this by listing all possible ways of making the journey, encompassing public transport, cost, carbon dioxide emissions and the burning of calories. The purpose is for organizations to be able to optimize their travel, while also saving money and reducing their environmental impact.