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11.10.21 Electromethanol – the idea that can change the world Author: Uniper SE • Reading time: 5 min.

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Summary

Every year, 11 billion tons of goods are being transported in more than 800 million containers across the seas of the world, forming the heart of the global trade flow. However, the ships making it all possible are almost exclusively driven by fossil energy. Liquid Wind from Gothenburg in Sweden has a possible solution to this.

Like most things in this world, it all started with an idea. One unusually warm October day in 2015, during a conference break in Gothenburg, it hit Claes Fredriksson: What if by combining hydrogen and carbon dioxide, you can develop a fossil free electrofuel, eMethanol, which can replace the fossil fuels used by today’s ships?

Claes Fredriksson, CEO Liquid Wind

Claes Fredriksson, CEO Liquid Wind

“It was like a bolt from the blue,” remembers Claes Fredriksson, CEO at Swedish company Liquid Wind. “From that day I haven’t stopped working on it. We need a simple alternative to fossil fuels that fits our already existing supply chains. All the other solutions are too small-scaled. But for us, the only thing determining how much electrofuels we can produce is the electricity and carbon dioxide available.”

Biogenic carbon dioxide is climate neutral

The source of the carbon dioxide is particularly relevant. Every ton of fossil energy taken from the ground generates three tons of carbon dioxide when it is combusted. With electrofuel based on biogenic carbon dioxide, on the other hand, the climate effect is neutral. You can say that Liquid Wind borrows the carbon dioxide molecule to attach it to a hydrogen molecule, to then hand the carbon dioxide back to the atmosphere after combustion. Since the biogenic carbon dioxide is part of the natural cycle no new carbon dioxide is added to the atmosphere.

Claes Fredriksson, CEO Liquid Wind

Claes Fredriksson, CEO Liquid Wind

“We have an absolutely neutral solution, which reduces three tons carbon dioxide for every ton of fuel,” says Fredriksson. “In addition to that, the logistics needed to be able to store and transport our fuel in tanks, and combust it in boats or trucks, are already in place. There is no need to re-invent the wheel. This is why we believe our way can be more efficient than new and untested solutions.”

The carbon dioxide used by Liquid Wind comes from Hörneborgs biofueled heat and power station in Örnsköldsvik, in the north of Sweden. Future facilities will also be placed in connection to pulp and paper industries or combined heat and power plants.

The world’s ships need a large-scale and carbon neutral alternative

Claes Fredriksson has big plans for Liquid Wind. And there is no lack of challenges. All of the world’s trading ships combined use approximately 3,500 TWh energy per year, which equals around 700 million tons of methanol. Today, yearly production in the entire world is 100 million tons of methanol, mainly produced from natural gas. Some of these ships can be electrified, mainly those who have coastal routes. However, the majority will need liquid fuels. Other biofuels are limited by the supply of raw material, whether it is slaughterhouse waste or palm oil. That is a problem that electrofuels don’t have. Liquid Wind’s plan to produce fossil free eMethanol can therefore be an important puzzle piece towards the transition to fossil free fuels.

Nobody can do everything, but we can all do something

Claes Fredriksson has carried the global perspective with him since his childhood years. With expat parents – his father working for the Swedish export success SKF – Claes has had the world as his base throughout his career. If there is anything Claes Fredriksson knows, it is how to gather different stakeholders around mutual projects. In the end, it is all about how nobody can do everything, but we can all do something to make a difference. This has, among other things, led to Uniper going in as a partner in Liquid Wind.

Claes Fredriksson, CEO Liquid Wind

Claes Fredriksson, CEO Liquid Wind

“When we initiated the discussions with Uniper, we were struck by their determination and speed. It has been a positive dialogue from day one,” Fredriksson explains. “We’re expecting to be able to start works to build the electrofuel facility during the autumn of 2022, and that we can start delivering the product in the early parts of 2024. A precondition is that we secure a deal with a major client and that the dialogue with the council and county administrative board works well enough that we’re granted the permits.”

The time is right for Electrofuels

Like much else here in life, success often comes down to timing. And it seems like Liquid Wind came just at the right time. The world’s largest shipping company, Danish Maersk, recently announced that they will be investing in eight new, methanol-driven ships. These ships alone will need 360,000 tons of fuel every year. Here, Liquid Wind would initially be able to deliver 50,000 tons, and plans to increase capacity up to 500,000 tons in a few years.

The decision from Maersk is particularly noteworthy. They consciously avoid comparing the price of the fossil free methanol with the fossil options. Instead, they believe those clients with particularly high climate ambitions will be willing to take the extra cost.

However, Fredriksson believes there is a lack of political incentives in Sweden to speed up the development of electrofuels that Sweden has excellent opportunity to produce. “Everyone knows that we need to change, and that we have a very important forestry industry in Sweden,” he says. “It is an large and important part in facilitating the production of electrofuels, but so far the politicians haven’t realised that electrofuels with biogenic carbon dioxide from the forest industry is an attractive export commodity that can give Sweden a prominent position within marine fuels. It is important that politics wakes up – otherwise we run the risk that investors choose other countries that are faster in enabling large-scale production of green fuels.”

Who could have imagined, 20 years ago, that the combination of hydrogen, electricity from wind farms and some carbon dioxide from Swedish forests would become one of the more significant answers to the global climate challenges? And that everything started at a conference. We will leave it unsaid if that says more about conferences or about Claes Fredriksson. Maybe what it does say is that it is through the meeting between different people and industries that creativity and innovation is born.


Uniper contributes with hydrogen competence

The shipping industry uses 350 million tons of fossil fuel every year, and eMethanol presents an opportunity to transition towards a more sustainable option. If the industry replaces all the fossil fuel it currently uses with eMethanol, the fossil carbon emissions are estimated to decrease with more than 90 %. Uniper’s strong competence in hydrogen will be of use to Liquid Wind, at the same time as Uniper will gain knowledge and experience within electrofuels.

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