We interviewed Alma Fahlén Hammar, PhD student in waste technology at Luleå University of Technology, about sub-project 4 of Green Transition North. It focuses on the production of biohydrogen with the aim of exploring the potential for increased biomethane production in the region.

Tell us briefly about yourself and how you came to do your PhD.
It's quite a long chain of events. I completed my MSc in Biotechnology and graduated from Lund University of Technology at the end of 2023, but I am originally from the Gothenburg area. It was love and curiosity that led me to the PhD position at LTU. It started when my partner accepted a position in Gällivare in the autumn of 2022, which led me to look for PhD projects in northern Sweden that matched my interests. I came into contact with Lumire and wrote my master's thesis on biogas and lived in Luleå from February to June 2023. As I was at the end of my education, I was thinking about my future and looking for a job during this time, while my supervisor at Lumire suggested that a PhD position would be advertised at LTU, specifically dealing with biogas. I had never thought about doing a PhD before, I wanted to apply in industry, but the opportunity to continue working on a topic that I find very interesting and the adventure of moving to Norrbotten appealed to me. It was a learning opportunity, both in terms of deepening the subject and my own development, that I just could not resist. So I applied and at the end of September I sent 22 moving boxes by post and travelled the entire train journey from Malmö to Luleå. Unfortunately, I am once again in a long-distance relationship, as my boyfriend is in Gothenburg to finish his studies. But I am staying for a while so that he has time to move back up.

What is sub-project 4 "Production of biohydrogen" about?
The project is about diversifying hydrogen production with biohydrogen, i.e. hydrogen of biological origin. In this project, the focus is on biomethane as a source of hydrogen gas. Biomethane is a major component of biogas, a gas mixture produced by the microbiological decomposition of organic material in an oxygen-free environment. Examples of organic substrates are the residual streams of food waste, sewage sludge and liquid manure. Biomethane is in itself a fossil-free energy, but the demand for hydrogen is increasing and therefore biomethane could be a source of biohydrogen gas.
In this thesis the local possibilities for an extended biomethane production are analysed. One part of the work is to check the availability of substrate to intensify biogas production locally. Another part of the work could be to analyse the operation of the biogas process itself in order to be able to influence the final amount of biomethane. In general, it can be said that the project is about investigating how local resources can be mobilised and managed in an appropriate way.

Why have you focussed on this area in particular?
Interest in hydrogen is growing and it is expected to be an energy resource of great importance for the green transition. The transition from fossil energy sources places high demands on access to alternative energy, and to manage the transition will require all the fossil-free energy supplements you can get. Exploring a fossil-free energy type that can also be a source of hydrogen can facilitate and support the transition to fossil-free technologies, and therefore it may be important to explore several different pathways to more hydrogen.

Do you already have industrial partners involved?
Today we are primarily working with several companies that have local connections, first and foremost Lumire (Luleå Miljöresurs AB), but AFRY, H2 North and Uniper are also involved in the project. Perhaps other players will join in over time, we will see!

What results do you hope to achieve?
The hope is that the work will benefit both the stakeholders involved in the project and society as a whole by exploring and potentially increasing access to a fossil-free form of energy. It is hoped that the work will show which factors are crucial for the expansion and rationalising the fermentation of organic material.

Can you say anything about possible challenges and obstacles?
It's difficult to say at this early stage. I think that the vast majority of results, whether they are positive or negative in terms of the desired image of an actor, can be used to say something about what should or should not be done and that a new process can be set in motion from there. Hopefully research can lead the way. At the same time, there is a clear collaboration between science and industry in this project, where the golden path between technical innovation and economic and practical feasibility can of course have some influence on the direction of the research. The circular economy is also an important factor in connection with the topic and must be included in the considerations.

What are the potential benefits for industry and society?
For both industry and society, the work could lead to a change in the way local resources are utilised. In the best-case scenario, more fossil-free energy can be made available as part of a circular economy.