Michigan Tech, Sweden Work Together on Biofuels
by Jennifer Donovan, public relations director
The Swedes have a goal: to make Sweden petroleum-independent. They are well on their way already, and Michigan Tech’s expertise in biofuels will help them accomplish that goal—and help the University and the economy of Michigan in the process.
During August, a team of three from Michigan Tech visited Sweden as part of Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm’s investment mission. David Reed, vice president for research, and David Shonnard, professor of chemical engineering, toured biofuel plants and a university in northern Sweden. President Glenn Mroz attended the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce’s Entrepreneurial Days, where Governor Granholm was the keynote speaker.
Mroz also attended a reception at the American Embassy in Stockholm, where he met Michael Wood, the US ambassador to Sweden. Wood, who grew up in Michigan, is devoting himself to connecting people who are working on biofuels in Sweden and the US.
During their visit, the Swedish biofuels firm Chemrec AB and Ohio-based NewPage Corporation signed an agreement to explore development of renewable biofuels from paper mill waste products at NewPage’s paper mill in Escanaba. Michigan Tech and Michigan State biofuels experts will act as advisors to the project.
Reed and Shonnard visited the Chemrec facility in Pitea, where the biofuels company is conducting a pilot effort to turn “black liquor”—a waste product from the paper-pulping process—into a biofuel they call “syngas.” While there, they also toured Umea University, where a lot of agricultural and forestry research is conducted, including plant biotechnology—a research focus at Michigan Tech—and robotic harvesting systems.
Then they went to Ornskoldsvik, where the Sebak corporation is processing spruce chips into cellulosic ethanol. Sebak partners with towns in the area and a local bus company that manufactures biodiesel buses that the towns use, Reed said. The Sebak plant can produce 37,500 gallons of ethanol per year, and a plant that can produce 15 million gallons is being developed.
“It was exciting to see how aggressively they are pursuing biofuels,” Shonnard said. “Sweden is ahead of us in pilot energy experiments,” said Reed. “But,” added Shonnard, “if the Escanaba plant works out, Michigan will be ahead of Sweden because we will be producing biofuels commercially.”
During his visit to Stockholm, Mroz met with faculty from Vaxjo University. Like Michigan Tech, the Swedish university offers a variety of engineering programs and is involved in many high-tech start-up companies. Also like Michigan Tech, Vaxjo just launched a service systems engineering program, a specialty that will play a key role in the bioenergy industry.
“The Governor’s message was that Michigan is a good place to do business, that Michigan wants to take the lead in developing bioenergy, and that Michigan’s universities have the necessary expertise,” Mroz said. “Here at Michigan Tech, we certainly have the resources to do that.”