Industrial Symbiosis in Aalborg

Industrial symbiosis is a production process that large core companies have been engaged in for years. It involves utilization of waste from other companies in order to avoid environmental pressure by landfilling and other loss of resources

17. Oktober 2014

Reduction of waste the industrial societies of Europe

In the industrial world a continuous flow of large amounts of waste has become a common part of our society. With an ever-growing global population there is a need for more effective use of resources. As a driver in environmental policy the European Commission has taken legislative measures in a Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC) and further pointed towards industrial symbiosis (IS) as part of a solution for a more resource efficient Europe. In 2012 an agreement between the Danish Government and the Red-Green Alliance has included industrial symbiosis in a row of efforts for environmental sound production growth.

Members of a business network in Aalborg East, ErhvervsNetværk 9220 would like help in promoting the idea of industrial symbiosis. They thought mapping existing examples in the local business environment would help understanding and promoting the concept.


Definition of industrial symbiosis


This example here is from Koh Tao, Thailand and shows Amphiprion perideraion (fish) and Amphiprion akallopisos (anemone).

Symbiosis has its origin in nature, where it refers to the living together of unlike species with benefits to both species. An often used colourful example is the anemone fish and sea anemones . The small anemone fish gets protection from predators by the chemicals in the sea anemone’s tentacles and eat excrements from the sea anemones, while sea anemones are also protected by the anemone fish from butterfly-fish that feed on them.

The idea of industrial symbiosis has been around for a long time e.g. it was used by Geographer George T. Renner already in 1947, but has not been dispersed in society at large until much later. In particular Associate Professor at Yale University Marian R. Chertow has been engaged in the definition of industrial symbiosis including a minimum of three companies and two different exchanges. Recently Chertow and Ehrenfeld elaborated on the process of moving towards industrial symbiosis as a three stages development starting with sprouting randomly among some companies over uncovering the interactions in order to be able to disperse knowledge on the benefits and thereby changing norms and thinking in companies called embeddedness towards a company culture, where waste is either utilized as parts of new products or material or used for energy production.

Lately also Director of Business Development Rachel Lombardi and Chief Executive Peter Laybourn at International Synergies Limited have contributed with a definition including knowledge transfer and other organisations than production companies as e.g. universities. Without a full consensus on a definition the study group at Aalborg University, whose work this article is built on, chose to construct following definition:

Industrial symbiosis is
“when two organisations or more have a transaction of one or more resources,
such as waste, by-products, utilities or knowledge. These transactions should be fostering
environmental improvements and economic benefits.”

To this definition it should be added the more the better.

The resources in waste that are usually utilized in industrial symbiosis has been identified by Chertow and Ehrenfeld to be steam, water, waste water, sludge, organic waste, fly ash, chemical substances and metals.


The figure shows the symbiotic transactions, Aalborg Portland is engaged in. The main part is the usual resource exchanges, but they also include knowledge. Several of these transactions can also be discussed, whether they are common practices in normal value chains. The fly-ash transaction from combined heat and power plants (CHPs) goes way back to a connection with Kalundborg Symbiosis and Asnæs Power Plant, and it has now changed to run through a company owned by DONG (Asnæs) and Vattenfall (Nordjyllandsværket) called Emineral.


Problems on dispersion the metaphor of industrial symbiosis – a weak metaphor

When a certain type of waste transaction becomes the normal standard of that industry, it does not create further environmental benefits like e.g. the Danish Combined Heat and Power plants. It has been argued by among others professor Allan Johansson from Lund University that industrial symbiosis should not be used to sell what you have been doing for a long time, and he pointed to what has been described as common standards in production practices as in Kalundborg. Also Chertow have had thought in this line, by claiming scrap dealing as an exchange that is furthest away from industrial symbiosis. But if one looks back at the origin in nature – an ancient symbiosis does not stop being a symbiosis due to long-term relationships. On the contrary it becomes the success for survival for the species involved. However, it is a preferred environmental solution to have more waste moved up in the waste hierarchy than simply burning it.

Chertow’s point on scrap dealers is a problem in a Danish context with many small and medium companies. Since large companies like Aalborg Portland, Danish Crown, Asnæs Power Plant and Novo Nordic are already engaged in industrial symbiosis the task ahead is to get the many small and medium companies to be a part of such economic and environmental favourable transactions, too.


Advantage in waste hierarchy


The Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EU) article 4 (1) lists the hierarchy of waste

The main point on the waste hierarchy is, it is easily understood – the higher in the hierarchy the better. Therefore it can be dispersed to a lot of people – and that is needed for making a difference on a global scale, and therefore it is a stronger metaphor. But it also has drawbacks like no mentioning of a demand for economic benefits, and therefore might be perceived by organisations as only a burden imposed on the business community. Also several more aspects of industrial symbiosis are not included – it is missing the unused potentials in knowledge, service and utility sharing.



Moving forward with industrial symbiosis

Creation of symbiosis has in 2013 been initiated in cooperation between the two networks in Aalborg – ErhvervsNetværk 9220 and The Network for Sustainable Business Development in Northern Denmark (NBE), the latter who has more production companies on the member list. Also in 2013 the municipality of Aalborg hired Master of Science in Engineering Christoffer Kirk Strandgaard to help forward the process. This initiative is among others started due to an appropriation of 10 million kr. in the Appropriation Act for 2013. The Appropriation Act also decided on a National Task Force of which the Symbiosis Center in Kalundborg has become part.


Suggested literature:

Directive 2008/98/EC of thr European Parliament and of the Council of 19 November 2008 on waste and repealing certain Directives. Directive, European Commission, 2008.

Ehrenfeld, J., and M. Chertow. “Organizing self-organizing systems. Toward a theory of industrial symbiosis.” Industrial ecology, 2012: 13-27.

Erhvervs- og Vækstministeriet. “Aftale mellem regeringen og Enhedslisten om: ‘Udmøntning af grønne, erhvervsrettede initiativer i Aftalerne om finansloven for 2013” (11. december 2012). Erhvervs- og Vækstministeriet, 2012

Henriksen, A.B., Cassanmagnago, D., Kavaldzhieva, D., Hahne, J.F., and J.H. Jensen, 2014, Industrial Symbiosis in Aalborg. Study case: Network9220, Aalborg University.

Kalundborg Symbosis. Kalundborg Symbiosis er verdens første fungerende industrielle symbiose. Kalundborg Symbiosis, 2014.

Lombardi, D.R., and P. Laybourn. “Redefining industrial symbiosis. Crossing academic-practitioner boundaries.” Industrial ecology, 2012: 28-37.

Rademaekers, K., S. Zaki, and M. Smith. Sustainable Industry: Going for growth and resource efficiency. European Commission, 2011.