Students help minimize industrial waste products
Students at Karlstad University are learning about circular and sustainable industry in practice. This has been brought about by a new course created through a partnership between the University, Paper Province, and stakeholders in Torsby Municipality.
Over the past year, energy and environmental engineering students in Karlstad, Sweden, have been able to implement circular business models using real industry data. The advanced course is about industrial symbiosis, which is a system approach that entails that one industry’s waste is used as a resource by another.
A report commissioned by the bioeconomy cluster Paper Province shows that Torsby municipality in mid-Sweden has excellent potential for industrial symbiosis. One case focus on the jam manufacturer Swed-jam, whose production process generates wastewater with traces of fruit, berries, and sugar. Students now use the data in the report to examine how this side stream can benefit other local industries.
Several potential stakeholders
The Paper Province report has provided the basis for the student’s field studies. The report lists potential industrial symbioses related to Swed-jam’s waste and side streams. Included are Tepro, a company that makes plastic packaging, and Biobag, which manufactures degradable plastic bags. Torsby’s district heating plant, Värmevärden, and the municipal water treatment plant are also included.
All the companies contribute with real production data. Torsby Municipality is also an important stakeholder in the student-industry collaboration.
“Above all, it is fun to meet energetic, young students who see things in new ways. It is very inspiring, says Eva Larsson”, head of trade and industry at Torsby Municipality.
Birgitta Björk, CEO of Swed-jam, agrees:
“We have seen a lot of creative solutions. The collaboration has also given us a more open approach and made us more receptive to new ideas.”
Swed-jam are already collecting their waste flows. The turbid wastewater is sent to a plant in a neighboring municipality to become biogas. But students have made it clear that more can be done and the idea that is closest to becoming reality is to produce and use the biogas locally in Torsby, closer to the production plant. This would make production and processing more efficient.
“In the long run, it is certainly possible to do more with our waste products, for example bioplastic. But to start producing biogas near our factory and get a local cycle going here in Torsby is a logical first step”, says Birgitta Björk.
Future jobs with a focus on sustainability
“During the course, I realized how industrial symbiosis works and that waste flows can be utilized to create new, renewable products. I can see myself working with purification technology and development of waste flows in the future”, says Nellie Stoetzer, who has participated in the industrial symbiosis course.
Fellow student Selma Zetterlund has also seen the benefits of industrial symbiosis.
“We got an insight into the fact that it is possible to create products from something that might otherwise be removed during the treatment process. It is one of the most interesting student projects so far during my time at university”, says Selma Zetterlund.
The course has been held twice so far, and more is planned, with a focus on Torsby’s waste flows.
Part of the exploration of symbiosis around the Baltic Sea
The report that the students’ work is based on has been funded through the EU project Baltic Industrial Symbiosis. Paper Province participates in the project together with stakeholders from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Poland. Karlstad University also takes part. The project explores industrial waste flows and possible partnerships in the county of Värmland.
“Collaboration is very important. We are a small municipality with limited resources, and if the business community here is to survive and be future-proof, we must collaborate with companies, municipalities, the University, and other stakeholders such as Paper Province and similar clusters. There is a lot of knowledge out there that you can tap into if you are only open to it”, says Eva Larsson.
Examples of applications and industries that students have identified for Swed-jam’s wastewater:
- An easily degradable carbon source that could be used by the water treatment plant.
- Fermenting the sugar into ethanol which could be used as a coolant by Tepro.
- Manufacturing PHA, a biodegradable plastic, which could be used by Biobag or Tepro.
- The production of hydrogen that could be used by Torsby Municipality’s refuse trucks and to generate electricity for the operation of the Torsby ski tunnel.