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A few minutes with Linda Olsson

With a doctoral thesis in hand on the winding road to being fossil-free – a road she found to be paved with a lot of talk and not much action – Linda Olsson is taking over as senior coordinator of the Biogas Research Center (BRC).

Linda Olsson“What’s interesting about BRC is that it is both interdisciplinary, and that we have the whole chain from fundamental research to direct applications,” says Ms Olsson, who has been able to sign herself D.Tech for a few months now.

Researchers from seven separate divisions at Linköping University are working together at BRC. Microbiologists, environmentalists, social scientists, engineers and business economists conduct research side by side. Add to that twenty or so stakeholders from outside academia, like municipalities, companies and organisations.

“It is a blend of different entities with completely different specialisations, but with exactly the same interest and with the same great commitment. There is an atmosphere of openness and trust, and when everyone gets together for a meeting new possibilities always emerge.”

Ms Olsson has an MSc in engineering physics and electrotechnology from LiU, beginning her career as a systems engineer.  But she became increasingly drawn to issues in environment and society, so she sought a PhD position with the Energy Systems Programme. The position was a perfect fit for her.

“The graduate school was really good because engineers and social scientists were made to work together right from the start; there was great focus on interdisciplinary work.  We got involved in what ‘the others’ have to offer and how we can make use of each other’s competencies,” she says.

Difficult social issues, like energy and environmental issues, cannot be solved with blinkers on. Then it’s just talk but no communication, something her doctoral thesis also showed.

How are things going at BRC?

“The centre was started nearly three years ago and is now in its second phase, where we have begun ten projects divided into two groups. One is pure research projects where more knowledge is needed, and the other is more exploratory projects where we investigate the conditions for developing biogas in a number of different areas,” she explains.

Within each project there is a LiU researcher as project manager, a number of other researchers and some people from the other 21 parties.

“It’s important to bring along the challenges, needs and opportunities that are found among municipalities and businesses. Research in BRC covers the whole gamut from enzymes and processing technology to the role of biogas in society.”

What is the biggest challenge facing biogas?

“The uncertainty of energy policy,” she answers after only a brief hesitation.

“Policy needs to be long-term so that companies, municipalities and private car owners will dare to back fossil-free fuels. And a systems approach where all the environmental benefits of biogas are taken into account.”

What is often missing from the debate on social aspects is the fact that biogas provides a whole system: the system deals with waste no one else wants and produces fossil-free fuel and high grade biofertiliser. Biogas replaces fossil fuel, and biofertiliser replaces commercial fertilisers produced using fossil fuel energy. In addition phosphorus, nutrients and vegetable matter are returned to the earth.

“Biogas makes it possible to end the cycle and is an important part of a circular economy,” she points out.

But BRC does not only look within the borders of Sweden; for some months the centre has been part of the ERIG (European Research Institute for Gas and Energy Innovation) network. Apart from Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Holland and France are also in it.

For Ms Olsson, it is a case of keeping the centre running; following up on schedules and financial commitments; making sure communications work – both internal and external; keeping in contact with project managers; organising large meetings and giving financiers and the programme committee regular status updates.

“It is really great to work in such a dynamic organisation and to learn about all our research. I hope I can help BRC develop and grow.”

Biogas Research Center

Set up in the autumn of 2012; one third is funded by the Swedish Energy Agency, one third by Linköping University, and one third by members and partners of the centre itself.

Phase 1 lasted two years, laying the foundation for future research. Phase two has funds of approximately SEK 80 million over four years.

The director of science is Mats Eklund, professor of Environmental Technology and Management.

 

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Last updated: 2017-02-13