Energy from the husks: Ukraine has a great potential for replacement of gas

As a world leader in the growing and processing of sunflowers, Ukraine has enormous opportunity to use crop residues as a resource to replace carbon energy sources. In particular, the potential of sunflower husks can replace up to 1 billion m3 of natural gas. 

The problem of switching on alternative renewable energy sources is crucial now for Ukraine. If previously the main incentive for this was the reduction of CO2 emissions, now, in connection with the war situation, the problem of energy security and independence from gas imports, the price of which has significantly increased, has come to the fore. 

According to estimates by the Bioenergy Association of Ukraine, the energy potential of biomass in the country can replace up to 26 billion m3 of gas per year. For comparison, the required minimum gas in the country for 2022/2023 was 19 billion m3. 

According to Vilnius Technical University research, 1 billion m3 can be replaced using sunflower husks. This is equivalent to providing electricity to 4.3 million people. 

As is known, the main part of the residues in the form of sunflower husks is obtained during the processing of seeds by sunflower oil producers. During the work on collecting data for Work Package 2 of the CIRCLE project, a team of Ukrainian researchers found many examples of such companies that use husks to meet their own energy needs and sell it to other market participants in the form of pellets and granules. In particular, the experience of such global suppliers as “Kernel” company, “Myronivsky Hliboproduct”, “Bunge”, “Oliyar”, “Vioil” and others was studied. 

It was noted that in recent years, these manufacturers have made a big leap in modernizing their facilities to reduce their own energy consumption, ensure energy independence, switch to “green” energy using crop residues obtained from the production of oils, thereby solving the problem of waste disposal and making production is as environmentally friendly as possible. 

Image: Kernel company elevators. Source:

One of the most successful in this area is the experience of the “Kernel” company, taken as an example for study within the CIRCLE project. In 2021, the company announced the transition of all its oil production plants to energy from sunflower seed husks. In total, on the basis of seven thermal power plants, it was planned to burn up to 481 thousand tons of sunflower husks and generate about 700 thousand MWh per year. According to the company, burning the husks produced the steam necessary for seed processing, which allowed saving about 72 million m3 of gas per year. 

The total investment of the Kernel company in the project for the transition to “green” energy amounted to $248 million. 

Another incentive for companies to replace traditional energy sources is that having satisfied their own energy supply needs, they can sell excess energy to the state under the “Green Tariff”, receiving additional income. Thus, the state is pursuing policies that encourage initiatives in the field of bioenergy.

Also, according to experts, switching to alternative energy sources helps to obtain new added value, at least plus 20% to the profitability of production, allows to create additional jobs, improves the economy and the environment. The fact is while burning sunflower husk, the emission of carbon dioxide is no more than during the natural decomposition of wood, and a negligible amount of harmful emissions is formed.  

It should also be mentioned that the ash obtained as a result of burning the entire potential volume of husks, make it possible to obtain 47 thousand tons of complex organic fertilizers suitable for use in organic production, which means the use of 240 thousand hectares of agricultural lands, improvement of their fertility, production of ecologically clean foodstuff and solving the problem of waste utilization. 

According to the Bioenergy Association of Ukraine, in 2020, biomass managed to replace about 5.2 billion m3 of natural gas, which is approximately 15% of total pre-war consumption. And this figure is expected to grow. 

According to forecasts, considering the geographical location and climate change, in Ukraine, in the future, an increase in fertile land is expected and, accordingly, an increase in the volume of cultivation of sunflower and other crops. 

Thus, given this perspective and taking into account the successful experience gained in replacing carbon resources, it is necessary to continue to modernize enterprises so that production waste is used as rationally as possible, preventing disposal in landfills. It is also necessary to ensure access for green energy producers to energy networks, simplify obtaining permits for its supply and modernize power grids. It is important to create conditions for the transition of other companies and social facilities to providing energy from renewable sources.