Taltech professor recommends building new shale oil plant without delay

Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) energy professor Alar Konist addressing the Riigikogu.
Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) energy professor Alar Konist addressing the Riigikogu. Source: Erik Peinar/Riigikogu

The Eesti Energia shale oil processing plant, which was halted by the Supreme Court's decision, must be nevertheless completed, according to Tallinn University of Technology Institute of Energy Technologies director Alar Konist.

"It perplexes me when people claim that we are falling short of attaining our climate objectives. In fact, we are on a right track; the new shale oil processing plant is a step towards much more sustainable technology. Enefit 280 (a shale oil plant that started operating in 2012 - ed.) is already in operation and produces significantly lower emissions. We have shown that it is possible to make a contribution to environmental awareness through technological development. And there is one more step to go. Since it is agreed that CO2 must not be released into the atmosphere, it is now even possible to capture it," Konist told Vikerraadio's "Uudis+" program on Thursday.

At this time, available CO2 capture technologies would incur additional costs for the plant, according to Konist.

"Today, the cost of capture is about of the same as our CO2 quota charge. In fact, a political decision is needed to give companies the confidence to invest in CO2 capture technologies," he said.

There has been little investment in CO2 capture technology due to concerns that the CO2 quota fee could drop drastically and the investment would not pay off, Konist continued.

"But if we agreed today that the quota price will not be less than €150, for example, all of these future technologies will begin to develop much faster, and we will then be able to get the products and materials we need while avoiding a regional collapse," he said.

Even if this raises the cost of production, Konist emphasized, all raw materials will rise in price anyway.

"What is not often mentioned today is that ore grades of all kinds are declining, which means more ore has to be processed, more quantities have to be used, and therefore more energy is needed. Whatever we do today, things are going to get more expensive. I am not arguing that we will not be able to compete after a while. In fact, the economic calculations that we have done (regarding the oil shale plant, ed.) certainly do not show that it is not competitive," the professor said.

"We are able to extract this environmental benefit precisely because this new technology is much more environmentally friendly and allows us to use our resource with much less environmental impact and much greater efficiency. So it is a step forward. I do not see why we should not adopt a new technology if it is for the benefit of the environment, in other words, if we can produce with a much lower environmental impact," he said.

Professor also spoke about the fact that Estonian oil shale is a unique material with many valuable components that can be used in various chemical sectors.

"I would be very happy if at some point we could only use it as a raw material for chemical products, so that we don't have to use it in combustion engines. But as long as there is a need [to use shale oil] in ship engines, for example, I think it makes more sense to do it here in Europe, in Estonia, because we will get it with the environmental impact that we agree on in society. And it's certainly better technology, if we import it from third countries that don't have such environmental requirements. The idea is that if we can produce it here in Europe, then this oil shale used in Europe will have a much smaller environmental footprint," Konist said.

The Supreme Court annulled last Wednesday the building permit granted to Enefit Power AS for the construction of the new shale oil processing plant because of errors in the environmental impact assessment. The court ruled that the municipality must continue the procedure for granting the building permit but correct the errors in the environmental impact assessment.


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Editor: Mait Ots, Kristina Kersa

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