Industrial doctorate students set out to solve the challenges Eesti Energia is facing
Eesti Energia and the Tallinn University of Technology launched an innovative model of cooperation, signing industrial doctorate contracts with doctoral students who will help the company solve challenges related to the chemical industry and circular economy.
The long-term strategy of Eesti Energia envisions moving away from the production of energy and liquid fuels based on oil shale, and towards a chemical industry based on the circular economy principle. Thus, the first industrial doctorate contracts were signed with doctoral students dissecting these challenges.
According to Raine Pajo, a Member of the Management Board of the energy company, the industrial doctoral programme allows the company to approach complex problems by involving the academic competence of the university and will thereby benefit the entire society.
‘Our transition into the chemical industry and the introduction of the circular economy leads to the creation of a completely new industry in Estonia, which will lay the foundation for our long-term competitiveness and help find solutions to achieve carbon neutrality,’ Pajo considers. ‘This collaboration demonstrates our commitment to achieving goals, employee development and collaboration in scientific research. Both of our new doctoral students were already working at Eesti Energia and showed an interest in linking their doctoral studies with solving an industrial challenge. I encourage other companies to use a similar approach, as Estonia has many talented and dedicated young people, as well as supervisors who are at the top of their field.’
Industrial doctorate agreements were signed with Dmitri Tsõvarev and Ragnar Kauril. Tsõvarev will focus on using the principles of the circular economy to convert raw materials of oil shale into 100% alternative raw materials in Enefit pyrolysis plants and to upcycle the product. In other words, his development work explores how to abandon oil shale as a raw material for petrochemicals in the future. His supervisor is Allan Niidu, Professor of Applied Chemistry at the Virumaa College of Tallinn University of Technology and Member of the Supervisory Board of Eesti Energia.
‘My aim is to create new pathways for scientific discovery, helping to shape sustainable solutions to complex challenges. I want to bring scientific discoveries to practical applications, so that they could create new value,’ claims Tsõvarev.
Kauril will explore the reuse of oil shale ash and gangue in the post-mining environment to develop new innovative energy solutions and to upcycle any existing and future by-products into new products. Kauril is supervised by Rutt Hints, Head of the Division of Mineral Resources and Applied Geology at the Department of Geology of TalTech.
‘I am excited about the opportunity to conduct research at Eesti Energia. I hope to discover innovative ways to contribute to the circular economy by taking research to a whole new level,’ Kauril adds.
Vice-Rector for Research at Tallinn University of Technology Tiit Lukk believes that both doctoral theses have the potential to make a significant contribution to the development of the chemical industry based on the circular economy in Ida-Viru County.
‘The main goal of Ragnar Kauril’s doctoral thesis is to develop innovative energy storage solutions using oil shale ash and, if possible, gangue. He is also studying the technical and economic possibilities of replacing the support pillars of abandoned oil shale mines with artificial ones. These support pillars are valuable, as they contain hundreds and thousands of tons of oil shale that could be extracted if artificial pillars were used,’ Lukk notes.
‘In the course of his thesis, Dmitri Tsõvarev will study the use of the Enefit pyrolysis process for the reprocessing of alternative raw materials. These raw materials include plastic, old tyres, biogenic organic residue, household waste and other materials. The product resulting from this process would be the starting material for the chemical industry in Estonia and elsewhere in Europe. In the event of positive results, we could steer the Estonian oil shale industry into the path of circular economy until the end of the service life of current plants,’ the Vice-Rector believes.
The nominal duration of the industrial doctorate is four years, during which the doctoral student will continue working at Eesti Energia in parallel with conducting research. Eesti Energia belongs to the reputable and innovative Employers 2% club, whose members make an annual contribution of either 2% of their sales revenue or at least one million euros as expenditure to research and development activities. In 2022, Eesti Energia invested €11.9 million in research and development.