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Fueling sustainability with biomass boiler

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions

Fueling sustainability with biomass boiler at site in Denmark

In western Africa, the shea tree produces a fruit which contain oil-rich kernels. For many years, AAK has imported shea kernels from West Africa to Denmark where the high-quality oil is extracted.

The AAK vision

A by-product of shea oil extraction is a solid fiber material called shea meal that has no nutritional value. The AAK site in Aarhus, Denmark has long held aspirations to burn shea meal as a single fuel source used to power the processing and refining of shea oil. However, certain properties of shea meal have made it difficult to achieve this vision in the past.

Tests and trials

Many European power plants have purchased our shea meal and attempted to burn it as a single fuel source, but none have succeeded, in part because the ash and the flue gas emissions from the shea meal are very different from wood and other solid fuels. Therefore, shea meal is generally mixed with wood pellets, straw and coal to be burned for fuel.

In 2012, we became aware that a supplier had progressed on the combustion of difficult fuel sources. Together with this supplier, we conducted extensive tests using a small 500 kW combustion chamber in which shea meal was burned. 

These experiments indicated that shea meal could be used as a single fuel source in an effective and efficient manner. Based on these findings, we decided to apply the technology at an industrial scale. In 2015, a 5 MW steam boiler was ordered, and a joint development project was initiated with the supplier.

Results from 2019

After several trials and rebuilds, the 5 MW boiler has been connected to our steam supply system, and production in Aarhus is now partially powered by energy produced from shea meal. During 2019, this initiative has led to a 7 percent reduction of our greenhouse gas emissions in Denmark compared to 2018 – a great achievement based on the efforts of our dedicated employees in Aarhus.

"As the largest processor of shea kernels globally, AAK Denmark has full focus on sustainable production. By applying the best available technology to increase the efficiency, recycling and bio-conversion of our energy, we can stay at the forefront of sustainable production", says Palle Jensen, Site Manager AAK Denmark.

As we gain experience in burning shea meal as a single fuel source and seek to optimize the boiler's energy output, we will continue to evaluate if this technology and the materials we have chosen are viable in the long-term perspective.

Shea kernel and shea butter - News & Stories - AAK

This is shea

Shea butter is an oil extract from the fruit kernels of the shea tree, which grows naturally in West and Central Africa. The shea butter extract is a complex fat that contains fatty acids like oleic acid, stearic acid, and linoleic acid.

Shea butter is commonly used as a replacement for, or improver of, cocoa butter. Another important area is personal care, where shea butter is used in for example skin care, hair care, and make-up products.

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Responsible sourcing of shea

The shea kernel is only about two and a half centimeters in diameter. But what it lacks in size it makes up in oil concentration—and a unique history.Read more about our responsible sourcing of shea.

The AAK House of Sustainability

Our House of Sustainability has guided our continued progress and represents the foundational structure of our sustainability initiatives and how we make it part of our DNA.

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