Finland as an exporter of fuels, simultaneously achieving carbon neutrality; billions in investments and tens of thousands of new jobs transforming the worst declining areas.
A report from September 2020 by Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology (LUT), St1 and Wärtsilä describes a scenario like this for Finland’s future.
The utopian sounding changes are thanks to utilizing a technology, which allows capturing carbon dioxide from the air or a factory side stream and turning it into fuel.
“Whole world sees carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, we see it as a freely available source of carbon“, says Sachin Kochrekar, a researcher at University of Turku. He is working on a project related to this fuel producing method.
Turning carbon dioxide into fuel without using a catalyst takes a lot of energy. The aim for Kochrekar’s project is to develop a catalyst that consumes less energy than the current catalysts.
According to Kochrekar, this method could have a huge impact in the fight against climate change.
One big problem of renewable energy like wind or solar is that they are not always available when they are needed. On the other hand all the produced renewable energy might not be able to be used immediately and needs to be stored in some form.
The electrochemical reaction used to synthesize fuel from carbon dioxide could be powered by renewable energy sources. This way renewable energy could be turned into fuel like methanol, where the infrastructure already exists for storage and transport.
Another positive to this method is closing the carbon cycle. Currently carbon dioxide is an open end: when it is released to the air, it will not be processed anymore.
However, turning the carbon dioxide into fuel would mean putting it into a cycle, where we would be recycling the same carbon dioxide repeatedly.
The report by LUT states that by producing fuel from just half of the carbon dioxide released by Finland’s pulp plants would be enough to replace all of Finland’s transport fuels.
In northern Norway, there is already a facility for capturing and storing carbon dioxide.
Last may, Kochrekar won the Millennium pitching contest, where he held a pitch telling about his project.
He was invited to represent the University of Turku in the contest, when he made it into semifinals in the University’s Three Minute Thesis competition.
“Three Minute Thesis is a wonderful platform, because you get to talk about your research to a much broader audience.”
Kochrekar grew up on the west coast of India in Goa. In school, he was always interested in math and sciences. When it came the time to choose a major, he went with chemistry.
During his bachelor's studies, his professor introduced him to the material side of chemistry.
”It is so fascinating how the same material on a bulk scale is stable while on a nanoscale it behaves altogether differently.”
During his work as a junior researcher in India Kochrekar heard about a project that had an environmental focus. He wanted to take his chemistry close to the environment and he knew this was something he wanted to do in the future.
The project brought him to Finland, specifically the University of Turku, about four years ago.
Kochrekar is also a taking part in the EU funded RESPONSE-project where Turku Student Village Foundation is a partner.
The idea in the project is that Turku is one of the so-called lighthouse cities in Europe, aiming to go carbon neutral earlier than other places.
The plan is to implement energy-positive solutions to all buildings in the Student Village, and turn the Student Village into an energy-positive district that produces 120–130% of its energy consumption through environmentally friendly means.
Kochrekar is working in the projects as a mentor. His job is to familiarize with the topic, collect the residents’ views as well as plan and create new activity to the student village.
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