— In-Country —
My first day as group leader began bright and early, with a complimentary breakfast at the Park Hotell in Lulea. After eating and loading up into the van, we were off for a short drive that took us to Pitea.
Our first stop in Pitea was the Smurfit-Kappa Kraftliner, a paper mill. A mammoth industrial facility, the mill is the largest corrugated lining paper mill in Europe. Our amicable tour guide, Jens Renberg, lead us through the mill and the operation’s gigantic scale quickly became apparent.
The mill was capable of producing millions of pounds of paper each year using the Kraft process. All of the chemicals used were recycled, so that the system was a closed loop and was actually remarkably friendly to the environment. The plant employed a biomass-fired boiler to provide carbon-neutral process energy, while selling surplus energy to the grid. Our tour of Smurfit-Kappa Kraftliner Pitea concluded with a tasty lunch break in the company cafeteria.
After breaking for lunch and saying goodbye to Jens, it was a quick drive to the other end of Pitea for round two. Our tour this time was of the Sunpine AB pilot plant. The first stage consisted of a brief presentation by our guides, Johan and Valeri. Hot tea and delicious pastries were provided while our hosts discussed their proprietary technology at the heart of the facility.
They operated a very specialized version of a biodiesel production plant. However, the biodiesel produced was not sold directly as a transportation fuel, like traditional biodiesel. Rather, Sunpine had a joint venture with Preem AB, Sweden’s largest oil refining company. Preem used Sunpine’s biodiesel as a feedstock for upgrading to regular diesel. The facility used all of the tall oil (a byproduct of the Kraft pulping process,) from Sweden’s paper mills to produce diesel. In total, almost 3 percent of Sweden’s diesel supply came solely from Sunpine’s plant. After our walk around, it was time to depart. With that, we were on to our next stop.
Our evening festivities consisted of barbecuing at Storforsen, the largest undeveloped water fall area in the Nordic region. Hot dogs, veggie dogs, smores, and more were the course as we stuffed our faces in the “mist” of natures raw power. Eventually, troublesome mosquitoes forced us out of Storforsen, and it was time to head back for some R&R in Lulea.
Day #2 consisted of way more driving! Traveling to Umea from Lulea was a solid couple hours, but the experiences we had made the journey well worth it. We started off with a tour of the Swedish Agricultural University’s (SLU’s) biomass torrification research station. Torrification is a modified form of pyrolysis, and SLU is leading the way in research.
After our SLU tour came the Umea Plant Science Center. One of the leading plant science centers globally, we were guided by a rich staff of well-trained researchers and educators. A highlight of the trip was certainly Professor Hodge’s lecture on biomass pretreatment technologies. His presentation was very thorough and many of those in attendance were duly impressed. Sparty would be proud! The final chapter of our Umea visit was getting dinner at a restaurant near the college. This gave everyone an opportunity to relax and wind down before the long drive back to Lulea! All in all, I certainly enjoyed my time as day leader!
— Pre-Departure —
In my tenure as day leader, the group will continue its stay in the wonderful (if wintery) town of Lulea, at the Park Hotel. The city is the seat of Lulea Municipality, and the capital of Norrbotten County. The Lulea archipelago contains over 700 islands, and the city’s port is the fifth largest in the country. Additionally, Lulea is the home port of the Swedish icebreaker armada, tasked with ensuring the uninterrupted flow of goods by carving shipping lanes through icy seas.
As the seat of Lulea Municipality, there is plenty to do around town. Numerous sports teams are based here, and the city is famously home of one of the world’s oldest indoor shopping centers, the aptly-named “Shopping.”
The city is also home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Gammelstad Church Town. The site is home to a 15th-century stone church surrouned by over 400 wooden houses. The houses were used to accommodate travelers from far villages, whose long journeys necessitated an overnight stay.