Effective industrial symbiosis

© Kalundborg

Kalundborg Symbiosis Effective industrial symbiosis


The Need: scarcity of resources worldwide and an increase in commodity prices increase the demand for more circular approaches to production.

The Solution: by working together and exchanging material, water, and energy streams between the partners, Kalundborg Symbiosis increases resilience and economic gains, while reducing the environmental impact and expenses.

What makes it really innovative? The partners of Kalundborg Symbiosis have worked together since the 1960's, resulting in a collaborative approach and openness to new symbiosis opportunities.

The Result: every year the combined benefits for the partners are:

  • Bottom-line savings of 24 million EUR
  • 14 million EUR in socio-economic savings
  • 635,000 tons of CO2
  • 3,6 million m3 water
  • 100 GWh of energy
  • 87,000 tons of materials

Working together is smart business

Shifting heavy industry and production towards a more circular economy can be a challenging task. However, facing this transition through collaborative partnerships can make circularity more accessible.

One such example is Kalundborg Symbiosis, the world's first functioning example of industrial symbiosis. Situated in Kalundborg, Denmark, the symbiosis is based on public-private partnerships, with exchanges of energy, water and materials in closed loops. The vision of Kalundborg Symbiosis is to be the world's leading industrial symbiosis with a circular approach to production. An industrial symbiosis constitutes a local partnership where, partners provide, share and reuse resources to create shared value. The purpose of industrial symbiosis is to create loops of technical or biological materials while minimising the leakage and waste in the loops - demonstrating some key parts of a circular economy, at a local scale.

This sort of symbiosis began in Kalundborg in 1961, initially with the area's water supply. It was not officially referred to as 'industrial symbiosis' until 1989, because of the participants philosophy: working together is just smart business.

Experimental mindset underpinned by shared values

Kalundborg Symbiosis has evolved organically over the past six decades, with joint projects being created where the business case and collaboration was beneficial but ending when the business case became unfavourable.

Building a functioning industrial symbiosis is not just about working together for the sake of each other and the environment, but a continual search for a better way of doing business. To that end, Kalundborg has shown that industrial symbiosis works well as a hotbed for innovative test and demonstration projects, as well as providing great opportunities for startups. Several projects have been completed over the years, from algae production facilities to bio-ethanol production, with some projects already being implemented at scale. Several startups have also located themselves in Kalundborg to benefit from the cooperative nature and innovative mindset.

Kalundborg Symbiosis is built on core values that have made all the successful partnerships possible: trust, confidentiality, openness, equality and cooperation. These values make it possible to renew and strengthen the partnerships within Kalundborg, connecting flows of energy, water and materials, at the same time promoting the symbiotic mindset to others, on all geographical scales, from local to global.

Kalundborg Vision
Kalundborg Vision

Accelerating green transition through partnerships

Kalundborg Symbiosis is made up of 25 different streams including water, energy and material flows (see network diagram below). The resource flows emanate from six industrial and three public sector organisations.

Collaboration between the partners is now second nature and every new decision in each company will consider the possibilities for and impact on the other partners and the Kalundborg as a whole. This mindset is strengthened by shared values and aided by the fact that none of the companies are in direct competition.

The partnership was formalised as a private association called 'Kalundborg Symbiosis' in 2011, structured as a board of directors, where each partner has a member on the board. The association has regular meetings to drive further innovation as well as other matters involving the partners. For example, the association recently decided to map all internal resource flows of the partners, and implement ten new symbiosis projects by 2025

The beginning of the partnerships started in 1961, with the creation of a pipeline from Lake Tissø to the Equinor Refining Denmark (then ESSO) refinery. While technically not being a symbiosis project, the pipeline was a public-private partnership between Kalundborg Municipality and Equinor Refining Denmark and is still one of the key elements of Kalundborg Symbiosis today, where companies can utilise surface water instead of the more valuable and scarce ground water resource.

Another key element, also the most visible and recognisable sign of the symbiotic cooperation, is the exchange of high temperature steam from Ørsted's combined heat and power plant, Asnæs Power Station, to many of the other partners in the Symbiosis. The visibility stems from the distinctive green pipes through which the steam exchange happens. The pipes can be seen running through all of the industrial area and serve as the inspiration for Kalundborg's logo.

Additionally, this symbiotic project changed Ørsted's business model from producing electricity with the excess steam as a by-product, to steam being the primary product and comprising most of their income. This exemplifies that by having the symbiotic mindset, you can change and innovate your business model and reap both economical and environmental benefits.

The Kalundborg network
The Kalundborg network

The economic and environmental impact

To gauge the impact of the collaboration, Kalundborg Symbiosis commissioned an LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) based on data of all existing flows in 2015. The analysis, which provides an overview of financial and environmental savings, compares two scenarios: production with and without symbiosis.

The results showed that connecting the enterprises save DKK 182 million (more than 24 million EUR) on the bottom line annually, while the socio-economic benefit amounts to DKK 106 million (more than 14 million EUR). In other words, the enterprises can leverage competitive power as a result of the interconnectivity, while the public sector can save money, for instance on investments in waste management.

Additionally, with the conversion of the Asnæs Power Station from coal to biomass, the emissions reduction amounts to 635,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalents, equal to the average carbon footprint of almost 40,000 Danes.

These are interesting numbers when considering that the savings are only due to symbiotic partnerships with all other aspects of the business models being the same.

This recent appraisal of the project offers quantifiable evidence supporting the claims behind Kalundborg: industrial symbiosis is simply smart business.

Kalundborg Symbiosis information:

  • Located in Kalundborg, Denmark
  • 6 private partners
  • 3 public partners
  • Over 5000 employees combined
  • 25 different resource streams exchanged
  • Collaboration dating back to 1961
  • Winner of Gothenburg Sustainability Award 2018

For further information visit the Kalundborg Symbiosis website.

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