Major Finnish port converting freighter wastewater into biogas

The Port of Hamina-Kotka will convert wastewater to fuel that can be used in trucks.

The Port of Hamina-Kotka is one of the largest in Finland Image: Pyry Sarkiola / Yle

Southern Finland's port of Hamina-Kotka has started the process of transforming the waste discharged from freighters into biogas that can be used as fuel for trucks.

The port, which is located in Kymenlaakso along the Gulf of Finland, is one of the country's busiest seaports, receiving an average of 2,500 freighters a year.

The wastewater management project was sparked by the Baltic Sea Action Group, a Finland-based NGO working towards restoring the ecological balance of the Baltic, one of the most polluted seas in the world.

It is part of the group's Responsible Shipping project, which seeks to reduce nutrient pollution from maritime traffic. Nutrient pollution refers to contamination caused by excessive discharge of nutrients which occurs, for instance, when ships dump sewage into the sea.

"We want to encourage ships to discharge their wastewater at the port. Our sewage reception and treatment facilities meet the requirements of the circular economy," Suvi-Tuuli Lappalainen, Development Manager at the Port of Hamina-Kotka, stated in a press release.

"We can achieve our objective of a cleaner Baltic Sea, one ship, one port and one country at a time. The nutrient load on the sea decreases every time wastewater is discharged at the port. We need extensive cooperation to succeed in our mission," Elisa Mikkolainen, Project Director at BSAG, said.

Several shipping companies on board

The project currently involves various companies and organisations, with Kotka-based water supply and management company Kymen Vesi treating the wastewater discharged from freighters at the port.

The firm also takes samples of the wastewater to obtain data on nutrient concentrations.

The treated wastewater is then processed and transformed into renewable energy at state-owned energy company Gasum's biogas plant.

Finnish shipping companies participating in the project include Meriaura and RABN. Germany-based Essberger, Norwegian water transportation company Utkilen and Danish shipping giant Maersk are among the foreign companies that have agreed to offload wastewater from their freighters for treatment.

"We believe that responsibility begins where legislation ends. We want to be pioneers in preventing all emissions from ships. We hope that other shipping companies will voluntarily take measures to ensure that wastewater is recovered sustainably instead of dumped into the Baltic Sea," said Mia Hytti, Meriaura's Sustainability Specialist.

C&C Port Agency, Dahlberg’s Agency and GAC Finland are among the shipping agencies involved in the project, while Autoyhtymä Vuorinen is responsible for transporting the wastewater.

Wastewater recycling still optional

Passenger ships have been voluntarily unloading sewage at seaports for several years now. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) issued a ban on untreated sewage discharge from passenger ships which came into force this year.

However, current laws allow freighters to discharge sewage directly into the sea. This can accelerate eutrophication, that is, an increase in nutrients resulting in the growth of harmful algae, as well as oxygen depletion in the Baltic Sea.

"All discharge into the sea is unnecessary. This is why waste from ships should be discharged at the port and recovered. These new voluntary measures will lead the way for responsible operators both on land and at sea," representatives from the Baltic Action Sea Group said in the statement.