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Navigating fluctuation

Sumitomo SHI FW (SFW) is a global provider of solutions and services that drive the decarbonization of energy. Timo Aspelin, Director TMU Service Asia, and Ilkka Koskinen, Director LTSA at SFW told Bioenergy Insight more about the company’s work.

The company’s solutions include converting energy from biomass and waste, long duration energy storage, the recycling of waste to valuable end products, carbon capture, flue gas cleaning, waste heat boilers and services related to digitalizing, optimizing and decarbonizing assets it delivers to the global power and industrial markets.

“We are well known to be the developer of the CFB boiler technology,” Aspelin said. Circulating Fluidized Bed (CFB) technology allows the mixing of a large variety of solid fuels – ensuring excellent combustion efficiency and emission control, and was developed by Ahlström in Finland. CFB technology is based on Bubbling Fluidized Bed (BFB) technology, which remains to this day the most suitable technology for bioenergy.

“[The] CFB boiler is the most flexible technology for solid fuel combustion and therefore suitable for mixing fuels from various sources with various qualities together,” continued Aspelin. “It is a perfect solution for local energy production from biomass and recycled fuels that are always produced locally, and that way also generating revenues into local economy.

“Existing coal-fired boilers can be upgraded to utilize biomass and waste-derived fuels, taking into consideration the characteristics of each fuel quality. Our global service teams provide these upgrades to delivered boilers and other OEM boilers with almost 50 years’ experience – first biomass retrofit was done [in] 1977, as pyrite boilers were converted to BFBs in Kokkola, Finland.”

Aspelin added that SFW strives to provide sustainable energy solutions for customers in a wide range of industries – including energy, waste, chemicals, metal, sustainable fuels, cement and pulp and paper.

SFW’s excellence in delivering projects worldwide rely on our 1,800 talented people, across 20 locations in 14 countries, with deep know-how and experience in the industry.
Timo Aspelin
Director TMU Asia, Sumitomo SHI FW

ASEAN growth

Bioenergy Insight asked why the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) stood to benefit from waste-to-energy and biomass initiatives. These countries have vast resources of biomass that could be utilized as part of renewable energy generation, replied Aspelin. Consequently, these nations could reach carbon neutrality goals while enhancing energy security by utilizing local feedstocks.

He pointed out that, in European countries, biomass is having a major role in energy generation, with long experience in how to utilize it sustainably. These models could be adopted in Asia, taking the local environment into consideration.

Not only that, but ASEAN countries have a huge issue with waste management. This could be improved by developing a circular economy that generates recycled fuels of materials that can no longer be utilized for industries. As biomass, waste management can be part of the energy infrastructure and decrease the need of coal usage in the region, Aspelin said.

SFW has been working with fuel conversions in Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia. It can be said that all the company’s long-term customers – power plant owners – “are thinking [about] how to transform their existing fleet to reach their net zero targets.”

Fossil fuels’ subsidies

The company recently highlighted infrastructural obstacles, whereby fossil fuels are favored over renewables with a subsidy system. Bioenergy Insight was curious as to what a solution to alter this might be.

“Fossil fuel energy production is still subsidized in many ways to maintain low energy prices for industries and individuals. Those systems should be transformed step-by-step to support renewable energy production from local sources,” Aspelin said.

Despite that, fossil fuel prices at the moment are more expensive than renewable fuels, she added. This decreases the need of subsidies to push for a transformation to happen. However, the transformation of energy infrastructure takes vast capital and time – as existing assets are designed to provide more than three decades of use. Therefore, achieving a high rate of renewable energy production in the short term requires political support.

In terms of the biggest hurdle to decarbonization, Ilkka Koskinen said that biomass and waste-derived fuels are globally under-utilized. The dumping of waste is “too cheap and easy in some countries” and this does not incentivize waste producers or consumers to recycle and/or use waste sustainably.

There are countries where recycling and waste collection/handling infrastructure is underdeveloped, which is making utilization of waste handling process pretty challenging.

“CO2 trading should also become a global system, so it would accelerate usage of non-fossil fuels all over the world. All governments are playing a crucial role to set clear targets and tighten emission levels for their domestic industries.”


Koskinen went on to explain the company’s digital solutions, which will enhance boilers’ capacity, production and reliability. The company has developed a handful of digital services, designed to improve power plants’ operational capability. These services enable owners to take full advantage of their physical assets, “squeeze the last drops out of it” and do so without jeopardizing the unit’s reliability.

The benefits of digital services include enabling owners to utilize more challenging (and more affordable) solid fuels – like waste-derived fuels – which can typically cause combustion process-related problems, such as bringing a high risk of bed material sintering, and heavy fouling of heat exchange surfaces.

With the CFB’s excellent capability to utilize biomass and waste, these operational challenges are manageable, whereas pulverized coal (PC) technology can use biomass only up to a very limited extent.

Digital services will increase operators’ understanding of the real-time condition of the boiler process as SFW’s solution involves instructing operators to take the necessary remedial actions in case risk level thresholds are exceeded.
Ilkka Koskinen
Director, LTSA, Sumitomo SHI FW

The clear advantage of this is that all operators, despite their level of experience, can understand the process conditions and risks in a similar way.

“It means that discrepancies between shift operation styles will become much less and the overall operational capability of personnel will remain at high level all the time. We could even boldly say that plant owners are losing some potential (and money as well) when not utilizing SFW’s digital solutions.”

Bioenergy Insight then asked what 2023 holds for SFW. The power generation sector faces huge pressure, due to the global energy crisis – “big fluctuation has become a new normal”. But the company’s customers are seeking new solutions, and whilst a big challenge for SFW, “we will gladly meet these challenges and try to use our long-term experience, innovation capability and knowledge to provide sustainable energy solutions and services for our customer base.”