Sweden has a proud history as a nation of science and is internationally respected for its environmental awareness. These two threads are coming together in the city of Lund, where two particle accelerators currently under construction will be the greenest in the world and will carry out cutting-edge environmental research.
Lund University is one of Scandinavia's largest research universities. Photo: Håkan Dahlström (CC BY)
The transformation from barren agricultural field to state-of-the-art international center for scientific research is under way on the outskirts of Lund in southern Sweden.
Much of the research conducted at the two particle accelerators planned for the site will be in the environmental field, and result in benefits such as eco-friendly materials and more fuel-efficient engines.
But in a world first, both facilities will use their waste heat to warm homes in the area. And one of them, the European Spallation Source (ESS), will be powered by the wind and biomass and have zero net emissions of CO2.
The small university city of Lund, surrounded by farmland and – on a clear day – within sight of Malmö to the southwest, has long been an important center of science, both domestically and internationally. It is home to one of Scandinavia’s largest research universities, Lund University, hundreds of hi-tech start-ups at Ideon Science Park, and is part of one of Europe’s biggest life science clusters, Medicon Valley.
Ideon Science Park employs about 2,000 people within information technology, telecom, life science, cleantech and biotech.
Photo: Ideon Science Park
Due in part to its strong reputation within the sciences, Lund was chosen to host the EUR 1.4 billion (USD 1.79 billion) ESS facility in the face of tough international competition. Colin Carlile, ESS director-general, says: “This is the scientific equivalent of hosting the Olympics. Except that the Olympics last for a few weeks while a facility like this lasts for 40 years.”
ESS is essentially a giant microscope – a laboratory for understanding the way in which materials are put together and how they behave at the level of atoms and molecules. Built around a particle accelerator, ESS will be used to carry out experiments in a wide range of scientific fields, from climate to archaeology to computer simulation.
The European Spallation Source is essentially a giant microscope.
Photo: ESS AB
Accelerating particles up to almost the speed of light requires vast amounts of energy, and when plans for ESS were first announced the facility was going to require more energy than the city of Lund itself (population 76,000). But thanks to changes to the design of the accelerator and its cooling system, ESS will now require less than half that amount.
Wind and waste power
Apart from being the most energy-efficient scientific facility of its kind in the world, the 250GWh of electricity that ESS will still require will come from renewable sources. ESS energy manager Thomas Parker says: “We felt that this was important for the legitimacy of this facility in a country like Sweden, where people care a lot about energy use and the environment.” Wind turbines and power plants fuelled by biomass will be built which will generate each year the same amount of electricity as ESS consumes.
The energy used by ESS will come from renewable sources such as wind power. Photo: Bob West (CC BY NC SA)
When it comes to the heat that is generated in the facility, it will be used to warm homes in the area, and perhaps beyond. “Sweden is unique in having district heating systems in just about every city, and these often use waste heat from industry,” Parker says. “Facilities like ESS usually have cooling towers or use a body of water such as a river to get rid of the excess heat, but we calculate that we will be able to heat 10,000 homes instead.”
Using 100 per cent renewable energy means that operating ESS will not generate carbon emissions. “But building ESS will create emissions because there are huge amounts of concrete and steel, and then we have the CO2 generated by the staff’s travel,” Parker says. “But even if you put these together, the CO2 savings from the recycled heating are much, much larger. So if we do this right, we are actually a good deal better than carbon neutral. ESS will be a carbon sink.”
Next to the ESS site, construction work is already under way on the MAX IV synchrotron light source, which is a different kind of particle accelerator. Jesper Andersen, the facility’s science director, says: “A synchrotron light source is a source of X-rays which we use for doing experiments on matter.”
When completed in 2015, MAX IV will be the top facility of its kind in the world, and will be 100 times more efficient than any comparable facility. “This will be the best facility of its kind ever built,” Andersen says. “It is very close to the theoretical limit where you simply cannot build it better.”
Photo: Gunnar Menander
MAX IV will, like ESS, recycle its excess heat into the district heating system, but its main environmental benefit will be the research done there. “Synchrotron radiation is a very versatile tool and there are many different things we can look at,” Andersen says.
One could be examining in minute detail what happens on the surface of a car’s catalytic converter. “If we can understand what happens there, then catalytic converters could be made more efficient and more effective,” he says. MAX IV’s research could also yield the alternatives to platinum that will be needed if the zero-carbon hydrogen society is to be realized. “However, the most important research is likely to be something we can’t even imagine today,” Andersen says. “That is the nature of frontline research.”
Thanks to its university and the companies that have spun off from research there, Lund is already a leading science city. But the feeling is that the best is yet to come. "With the two premier sources for X-rays and neutrons, it is clear that for material science and life science, Lund will be the place to go," Andersen says.
Electron detectors for the focal-plane array. Plastic scintillators are used to convert the energy deposited by the electrons to a flash of light. Each of the electron detectors has been polished and assembled by hand, then wrapped in aluminized mylar to better contain the individual flashes of light. Photo: Gunnar Menander
David Wiles is a British journalist living in Sweden who regularly writes about Swedish environmental technology. Inspired by his subject, he drives a car fuelled by biogas made locally from waste.