Story | 08/10/2018 07:12:51 | 6 min Read time

Cleaner road traffic with renewable fuels

The world’s population is on the rise, and the same goes for passenger and freight traffic. Transport emissions must be brought under control in order to curb the effects of climate change. But what practical solutions are there to this urgent problem?

At rush hour, traffic can be seen, heard and felt: exhaust gas emissions are released at street level, directly into the air we breathe. Carbon dioxide is only part of the problem: exhaust gases also contain nitrogen oxides and nanoparticles that are hazardous to health.

A few metropolitan cities such as Paris are trying to improve air quality by banning diesel cars and trucks from accessing the city centre from the year 2025 onward.

“Emissions from passenger cars can also be reduced with renewable fuels or other low-emission options, such as electricity. There are, however, fewer options for cutting emissions from heavy duty traffic,” says Maiju Helin, Head of Sustainability and Market Development at UPM Biofuels.

In Finland, heavy duty vehicles consume approximately 80% of all diesel, while the proportion globally is 70%.

“Increasing the usage of renewable low-emission fuels such as renewable diesel in heavy duty vehicles is an effective and readily available solution for both the long and short term. The use of renewable diesel doesn’t require any changes in the distribution network, and the fuel is suitable for all diesel engines as is,” says Helin.

Within the European Union, traffic emissions have increased significantly, and traffic is one of the major sources of greenhouse gases. Road traffic emissions account for over 70% of the emissions within the EU.

The EU aims to achieve at least a 30% reduction in emissions from the 2005 level in sectors that are not included in the scope of emissions trading, such as farming, heating and traffic. The EU has divided the burden into country-specific reduction targets, with the Commission proposing a target of 39% for Finland by 2030.

“Cutting traffic emissions is an important factor in the effort to reduce total emissions. That is why every solution, both big and small, is important. Advanced biofuels are essential to achieving our long-term climate goals,” says Helin.

Finland strives to focus on reducing the effects of fossil fuels by increasing the usage of renewable fuels. The goal is to increase the proportion of renewable fuels to 30% of total fuel consumption.

Reducing emissions with renewable fuels

UPM produces wood-based renewable fuel, UPM BioVerno, which reduces carbon dioxide emissions by up to 80% during its lifecycle.

“We have calculated the emissions generated during the lifecycle of the fuel and compared this amount with the carbon footprint of fossil fuels. Transportation of raw material, storage, processing and distribution are all included in the calculations. The calculation is based on actual emissions,” explains Helin. In Finland, passenger car traffic accounts for about 60% of greenhouse gas emissions, with the rest coming from vans, lorries, buses and motorcycles.

The use of UPM BioVerno reduces carbon dioxide emissions and other harmful exhaust emissions, such as nitrogen oxides and particles.

“These emissions directly affect the air quality in cities, so UPM’s fuel is one solution for cutting down exhaust emissions,” says Helin.

Already this year, UPM BioVerno fuels have reduced carbon dioxide emissions from road traffic by some 300 million kg. The production capacity of UPM BioVerno diesel is sufficient to tackle annual carbon dioxide emissions from cars in a city roughly the size of Helsinki.

Last year, UPM tested its wood-based renewable UPM BioVerno diesel on buses in the Helsinki metropolitan area.

The tests showed that UPM BioVerno performed as well as the highest-grade diesel in heavy duty city traffic. Renewable diesel offers the greatest potential reduction in emissions in older vehicles, as they are not equipped with diesel particulate filters (DPF) or selective catalytic reduction (SCR) catalyst.

Refining the biorefinery

UPM produces UPM BioVerno at its biorefinery in Lappeenranta, Finland. Efforts to optimise processes at the UPM Lappeenranta Biorefinery are yielding excellent results. Producing one tank of renewable fuel currently consumes up to 25% less energy than last year.

“Optimizing the production processes takes time in new facilities. We have now stabilised our production processes at the biorefinery, and the facility’s energy efficiency has greatly improved, as we have constantly developed our operations at the biorefinery,” explains Helin.

UPM’s renewable fuels are produced from waste and residues that are generated by the forest industry.

“Renewable raw materials which are based on biomass and forest industry residues are a sustainable solution. They also don’t affect supply chains in food production,” notes Helin.

In addition to renewable diesel and naphtha, the UPM Kaukas mill site in Lappeenranta produces sawn timber, pulp and paper. The mills efficiently utilise each other’s products and residues, minimizing the use of raw material and fuel sourced from elsewhere. The mill is mainly powered by the excess energy generated by pulp production. The bioprocess gases of the refinery are also harnessed for energy.

The path to bioeconomy

Investing in the production of renewable fuels has proven to be an excellent way to advance also other sectors of the bioeconomy.

“As demand grows, companies are investing and expanding their production. At the same time, we are constantly finding new opportunities to replace fossil fuels by utilizing our renewable raw materials more efficiently. We are already selling by-products from production at the Lappeenranta Biorefinery to the petrochemical industry for use as raw materials for bioplastics,” explains Helin. Consumers are also becoming more aware of their choices, and the industry must keep up with this trend.

“Legislative obligations and consumer demand to increase the use of bio-based products go hand-in-hand. Due to the combined effect of both, our dependency on fossil fuels will decrease in the long run,” says Helin.

“UPM as a responsible company that develops bioeconomy-focused, sustainable solutions, is set to play a meaningful role in mitigating climate change,” she concludes.

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