Visual Identity - Veera Kemppainen

Energy Futures

Critical minerals, climate neutrality and transition pathways

Explore the exhibits at Dipoli Gallery, Otaniemi, 16.03.23-15.09.23

Separated silver-plated copper wire, photovaltic solar panel waste. Image: Sara Urbanski, Aalto University, 2023

This exhibition focuses on energy transition, showcasing research from across the  schools of Aalto University with top experts. What are the challenges and solutions driving our response to the global energy crisis across research and industry?

Energy Transition is a term which refers to the process of changing global energy production and consumption from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. The global energy crisis and climate crisis are interlinked and international policy mandates from the United Nations such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate reportSustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) including treaties such as the Paris Agreement committing to significantly lowering carbon emissions. But is this an effective enough strategy?

Kevitsa Mine 2
Kevitsa mine in Sodankylä, Northern Finland. Image: Tomas Westermark, © Boliden

In addition to reducing carbon emissions, the entire energy system requires a radical restructuring, including how we store energy and the environmental and economic impact of mineral scarcity. What does an effective transition to renewable energy sources require and what is the role of Hydrogen and Wind power in our energy future?

Battery recycling mamangement_ Aalto BatCircle project_DSC_6604_photo Valeria Azovskaya_Original_Original.jpg
Recovered Co from Li-ion battery. Image: Valeria Azovskaya, Aalto University, 2020

This exhibition will provide a combination of multidisciplinary perspectives on energy transition from ecology and biodiversity impact, environmental economics and new energy technologies to wind, hydrogen, fuel cell conversion and infrastructures.

Energy Transition Glossary

From SDG, 1.5 and Finland 2035 policies to understanding the difference between blue and green hydrogen, zero carbon, climate neutrality, the energy transition glossary explains some key terms needed to navigate the discussion on the transition away from fossil fuels

Piiparinmäki Wind Farm, Finland. Image: Kalle Kataila, Aalto University, 2022

Finnish Renewable Energy

Thanks in part to its large geography and low population density, Finland has great wind power generation potential. Aside from questions of who will build turbines and where, Finland’s national energy grid must receive investments in transmission capacity to meet future electricity demand.  

Piiparinmäki Wind Farm, Finland. Image: Kalle Kataila, Aalto University, 2022
03 On top of the turbine
Piiparinmäki Wind Farm, Finland. Image: Kalle Kataila, Aalto University, 2022

Engineering education has long been concerned with innovation, while ecologists have been occupied with biodiversity loss and climate change for decades. Researchers at Aalto University are creating an interdisciplinary textbook and learning materials set to better prepare tomorrow’s engineers to create sustainable future energy infrastructures. 

Multinational electricity utilities firms are major forces in the global energy sector. A successful energy transition to a world run on renewables therefore requires huge investments on behalf of electricity utilities firms. Researchers from Aalto University help shine a light on the dynamics determining their cross-border investments into renewables. 

Configurations leading to FDI in renewables and non-renewables and aggregate transition capacity. Image: Samuli Patala
HeatStock material. Image: Konsta Turunen, Aalto University, 2022

Sustainable energy production technologies like wind turbines are common knowledge, but what about sustainable energy storage solutions? Researchers from Aalto University have developed a compact, long-term thermal energy storage system comprised of some surprising household materials.

Scanned electron image of nanocomposite fuel cell material. Image: New Energy Technologies Group, Aalto University

Hydrogen Futures

The hydrogen economy is critical for two interlinked needs in the energy transition; to realise the decarbonization of the most challenging industrial and transportation applications, and secondly to facilitate the storage of intermittent renewable electricity.  These include industrial processes such as steelmaking, and transport modes like heavy duty vehicles, shipping & aviation.  These applications rely upon hydrogen’s properties as an energy carrier and reactant in terms of applicability to industrial processes, for example in high temperature applications, and the much higher energy density it offers compared to batteries for example, which is necessary for heavy duty transport applications.  At present, most hydrogen is produced for industrial applications from steam methane reformation but a key concept in the hydrogen economy is to produce hydrogen by electrolysis of water, using power from renewables, and other low carbon sources of power generation such as nuclear.

Hydrogen produced from renewable electricity is known as green hydrogen, and offers the possibility for mass storage store intermittent forms of power generation such as wind and solar, which cannot typically be fully achieved with existing technologies – batteries for example are limited by the availability of critical materials.  This stored hydrogen may then be used directly in industry, or used in fuels cells to produce electricity, this reversing the process of electrolysis. Hydrogen can also be used in refined versions of existing internal combustion engines, such as in shipping, and be used to produce hydrogen-based energy carriers such as methanol and ammonia, which can be more convenient to use in such engines.

Realising this hydrogen economy requires many technologies across the value chain, and the research capabilities at Aalto cover many of these. The exhibition presents some key examples.  Beginning with the production of renewable electricity, Aalto’s expertise in wind and solar power are shown in the “Finnish Renewable Energy” part of this exhibition.  Moving to the production of hydrogen through electrolysis, the FinH2 project represents a research and industry partnership to improve electrolyzer technology.  Producing electricity from hydrogen through fuel cells, addressed in the “Cutting edge, solid-oxide fuel cells” project.  Projects such as this seek to improve the lifespan and reduce waste in the manufacture of the fuel cells.  The “Hydrogen for carbon neutral shipping” project focusses on the improving the combustion of hydrogen in internal combustion engines.  Aalto’s research thus addresses many of the key challenges in realizing the hydrogen economy. Our research contributes to making a Finland a global leader in the technologies required for the hydrogen economy, not only to achieve carbon neutrality on national scale, but also in technology exports to achieve the energy transition on a worldwide scale.

Text by Samuel Cross, Director, Energy, Aalto Networking Platform

Hydrogen has huge potential as an energy source in transport and as a raw material in industry. However electrochemical energy conversion devices, used to convert electrical energy as hydrogen bond energy via splitting water, contain critical metals. FinH2 looks to develop new technologies which drastically reduce these metals - or even remove them altogether.

Membrane electrode assemblies. Image: Glen Forde, Aalto University
3D tomography of composite material used in reversible solid oxide fuel cell. Image: Imran Asghar, Aalto University
3D tomography of composite material used in reversible solid oxide fuel cell. Image: Imran Asghar, Aalto University

Reversible fuel cells offer great potential for storing renewable energy in large quantities for long periods, two drawbacks of batteries. Yet their production creates chemical waste. Aalto’s researchers are working to improve the cell efficiency in both electrolyser and fuel cell modes and reduce waste production through novel printing technology. 

As both an energy carrier and a combustible fuel, hydrogen plays a key role in providing solutions for a world powered by electrical energy. Researchers at Aalto University are developing direct injection technologies which could lead to carbon-neutral solutions for logistics, with particular focus on the maritime industry. 

Image post-processing for H2 Jet (6 individual images, namely, Raw Image, Subtracted Background Image, Magnitude Image, Denoised Image,  Binary Image, Final Image). Image: Energy Conversion and Systems & Aalto University
Image post-processing for hydrogen jet (6 individual images, namely, Raw Image, Subtracted Background Image, Magnitude Image, Denoised Image, Binary Image, Final Image). Image: Energy Conversion and Systems & Aalto University
Detail of photoValtic waste from solar panel, stage 2 of recycling. Image: Sara Urbanski, Aalto University, 2023

Critical Minerals and Circular Economy

Nickel (green) and Nickel-Cobalt (Pink/Brown) containing hydrometallurgical process solutions. Image: Sara Urbanski, Aalto University, 2023

Europe is embracing renewable energy but is less enthusiastic about establishing local mines to extract the metals needed to facilitate the energy transition. ENiCoN looks to establish comprehensive, responsible mining practices through sustainable processing of lower-grade raw materials and repurposing waste materials. 

Lithium-ion batteries and photovoltaic panels are major elements of future energy infrastructures. However, their production requires critical raw materials, whereas untreated end-of-life devices harm the environment. RESTART aims to develop recycling processes that maximise finite critical materials recovery, minimise environmental damage and enhance overall sustainability of these essential energy technologies. 

Three sections of PhotoValtic Waste from Solar Panel, Stage 2 of recycling (50 impulses of EHF). Image: Sara Urbanski, Aalto University, 2023
Battery recycling mamangement_ Aalto BatCircle project_DSC_6604_photo Valeria Azovskaya_Original_Original.jpg
Recovered Co from Li-ion battery. Image: Valeria Azovskaya, Aalto University, 2020

Batteries are a critical element enabling the renewable energy architecture and their production is extremely mineral-intensive. BATCircle 2.0 looks at all aspects of the battery material value chain to develop sustainable battery production and recycling processes in Finland. 

Aalto University ice tank research. Image: Mikko Raskinen, Aalto University

Climate Neutrality and Decision-Makers

Climate targets serve to spur action to reduce emissions. Without concrete planning and an idea of how to reach those targets, they remain mere numbers. Scenario modelling conducted at Aalto University provides national governments and international organisations pathways and illustrations to make reaching targets more feasible.  

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Modelling framework and coverage. The economic, societal and environmental dimensions are shown in different colours. Image: Gardumi et al, 2022
Photo of people working with MTPT canvas. Image: Sofi Perikangas

Technology alone won’t be enough to transition to climate neutral energy infrastructures. Transition arena processes supported by the mid-range transition pathway design toolset (MTPT) unite participants with a broad range of expertise to co-create feasible, medium-term steps towards creating sustainable energy systems. 

Like all European countries, Portugal is looking to rapidly reduce carbon emissions and meet nationally determined and European-mandated climate targets. Finnish businesses have an opportunity to leverage their skills and technical expertise in the Portuguese energy market, but as this project demonstrates, a systemic approach is required.

slide 9 (diagram)
Overview of the Portuguese energy sector. Image: Aalto University & Nova School of Business and Economics, 2023
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