A 100% biomass steam power plant producing vodka

Posted on 19 February 2016.

In Finland, the new Koskenkorva steam plant uses barley husks as the energy source for the Altia Group distillery. The perfect example of an innovative circular economy.

On the great plains of Ostrobothnia, in the municipality of Ilmajoki, the small village of Koskenkorva is home to the Altia distillery, the leading Nordic distributor of wines and spirits. The Group, owned by the Finnish state, produces the most famous vodka in the country: Koskenkorva, a barley grain based spirit.

The distillery uses 200 million kilograms of locally produced barley per year - nearly 15% of Finland’s total crop. The vodka production process produces a huge amount of residue – in particular the barley husks enveloping the grain itself. In 2013 Altia signed a 10-year contract with Suomen Teollisuuden Energiapalvelut (STEP, a Veolia and Pori Energia joint venture) to design, build and operate a 10 MW biomass-fed steam power plant – making the residue a valuable resource. The objective? To cover the distillery’s energy needs and at the same time reduce the amount of waste.

Opened in November 2015 near the old 20 MW steam plant, this 100% biomass plant uses barley husks as its primary energy source. This by-product from the production of grain spirits, which is available year-round in large quantities, has the same calorific value as straw.

Altia hopes to reach 65% energy self-sufficiency as against 20% previously and reduce its CO2 emissions by half. An important aspect of the project is the flexibility the company now has in its "energy mix". STEP has developed innovative solutions to make it possible to use both agricultural biomass and other biomass sources (or a mixture). In the near future, the Koskenkorva plant could for example be fueled by wood chips or reed canary grass - of which there is a great deal in Finland.

Finnish companies are becoming increasingly interested in more sustainable production methods and new forms of energy. As the first of this type on an industrial scale in the country, Koskenkorva’s new steam power plant is an excellent example of the innovative and versatile use of agricultural by-products.