Circular economy in practice at Händelö

Linköping University is working to develop a biobased and circular economy in practice, in a symbiosis between Händelö Eco-Industrial Park and Norrköping municipality. The project is a successful example of how industry and the city can use their resources and waste in a circulation that benefits the economy, society and the environment.

Several stakeholders haveunited to create the industrial park at Händelö. Illustration: HEIP

Industrial symbiosis

An island outside of Norrköping, Händelö, is a popular place for politicians, company managers and researchers to visit. Industry here coexists with beautiful oak-covered hills in the Händelö Eco-Industrial Park. During the past 20 years, the industrial park has become a unique environment in which industrial symbiosis has made it possible for companies to increase resource efficiency and environmental sensitivity. “Industrial symbiosis” is the name given to the process in which excess and waste from one company becomes raw material for another.

Ian Hamilton.Ian Hamilton.

“The EON combined heat and power plant has been here for a long time, and was joined by the Lantmännen Agroetanol plant in 2000. A combination of factors led to them coming here, one of which was the opportunity to use process steam from the heat and power plant. This was the start of a process that 20 years later has led to what we see today”, says Ian Hamilton of Cleantech Östergötland, project manager for Händelö Eco-Industrial Park.

Ninety-five percent of the material used in the industrial park is renewable or recycled. The heat and power plant uses waste products from the forestry industry and waste from Norrköping, and returns district heating and electricity to the town. It also delivers process steam to the Lantmännen biorefinery, providing 85% of their energy needs.

“The biorefinery and the heat and power plant are connected by a pipeline through which process steam from the power plant flows, to be used in the refinery. The process steam is at high pressure and high temperature, which means that it can be used several times. It is used first where high temperature is needed, and then it circulates back through the biorefinery to be used in places that require a slightly lower temperature. This continues until the heat has been extracted, and the remaining hot water is sent back to the heat and power plant, and subsequently into the district heating network”, says Mats Eklund, professor of environmental technology and management at Linköping University.

Eco-friendly collaboration

Mats Eklund is one of the researchers in the Industrial and Urban Symbiosis unit and research group at LiU, which has long studied such topics as the factors that influence collaboration between industries and their cities.

Mats Eklund.Mats Eklund Photo credit Magnus Johansson

Initially, the Lantmännen biorefinery produced ethanol mainly from different types of grain. Today, waste products from the food industry are also used as raw material. The carbohydrates in the raw material are converted to ethanol, while protein-rich components become animal feed that replaces imported soya-based feed. In addition, carbon dioxide is produced, and this can replace fossil-derived carbon dioxide. Other waste that arises can be used to produce biogas for transport and fertiliser for neighbouring farms. Given that several actors collaborate, the industrial park can not only produce better products but also operate in an eco-friendly manner.

“Collaboration is one of the tools that can be used most effectively to bring about improvements. This is true both for the current production methods, and for the innovation and new developments in progress. And remember – this is not something that’s static: it’s dynamic and under constant development. We heard recently that Lantmännen is to invest SEK 800 million in a new facility to separate out vegetable protein from the biorefinery. So you see, development is ongoing in the field all the time,” says Mats Eklund.

Project manager Ian Hamilton agrees that collaboration has played a major role in the development of the industrial park, and emphasises how important actors from the public sector have been.

Different perspectives

“It has been incredibly useful to be able to mix perspectives. It’s one of our strengths that we can work in a cross-sector manner, with actors from the business world, academia and the municipality. We are an independent project group that leads the work, and can take a realistic view of everything here. It’s easy for the industry to take too narrow a view, and here the university has been able to put what we do into perspective, showing what we can be proud about and where we can improve”, says Ian Hamilton.

He continues: “The companies have collaborated among themselves for a long time, but they could take this to new levels when Region Östergötland and Cleantech Östergötland became involved. It was possible with the aid of the new actors to establish a research initiative and project funding for three years, and in this way continue development of the industrial park. It’s extremely important that people are available who can put a significant amount of work into the project. The companies don’t have the resources to carry out research and outreach on their own, and this is why it is important to involve both academic actors and the regional administration.”

Händelö Eco-Industrial Park is not the only industrial symbiosis that has grown up during the past 20 years: many others have been established both in Sweden and abroad. Research has shown clearly that there is a huge potential for similar projects, and Ian Hamilton is convinced that they will become more common in the future. At the same time, however, systems are not available to support companies and municipalities in these processes.

“Some international examples have been set up, and I’m sure we’ll see more whose example we can follow. We’re facing many challenges, and change doesn’t come overnight. It’s taken 20 years for Händelö to develop the industrial park that we see today. I hope that the lessons we’ve learnt mean that it will not be 20 more years until the next park is here.”

• More information about Händelö Eco-Industrial Park (in Swedish)

Translated by George Farrants

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