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The Industrial Symbiosis at Kalundborg, Denmark

One of the favorite cases presented by industrial ecologists is the story of the spontaneous but slow evolution of the "industrial symbiosis" at Kalundborg, Denmark. This web of materials and energy exchanges among companies (and with the community) has developed over the last 20 years in a small industrial zone on the coast, 75 miles west of Copenhagen. Originally, the motivation behind most of the exchanges was to reduce costs by seeking income-producing uses for "waste" products. Gradually, the managers and town residents realized they were generating environmental benefits as well, through their transactions. (A student team working on an Earth Day project in the early 90s mapped the network of by-product exchanges with yarn and showed it to the plant managers!)
The Asnaes Power Station is the hub of the network of materials and energy by-product exchanges at Kalundborg. The pipes in the foreground include the conduit for steam to the town of Kalundborg. The Statoil refinery is to the North, beyond the stacks. Novo Nordisk and Gyproc plants are about a kilometer to the South.

The Kalundborg system comprises five core partners:

Over the last two decades, these partners spontaneously developed a series of bilateral exchanges which also include a number of other companies. There was no initial planning of the overall network; it just evolved as a collection of one-to-one deals that made economic sense for the pairs of participants in each.

The symbiosis started when Gyproc located its facility in Kalundborg to take advantage of the fuel gas available from Statoil. Today, Gyproc is still the only company to have located there to take advantage of an available supply.
The Kalundborg Network 1995
The following diagram illustrates the network of companies in the symbiosis, showing the extent of the material and energy exchanges 1995, currently about 3 million tons per year. Image © Douglas B. Holmes

Energy Flows

The Asnæs power station is coal-fired and operates at about 40 percent thermal efficiency. Like all other fossil-fuel power stations, the majority of energy generated goes up the stack. At the same time, another large energy user, the Statoil refinery flared off most of its gas by-product.

Then, starting in the early '70s, a series of deals were struck:

Materials Flows

In 1976 the Novo-Nordisk plant started the pattern of materials flows, matching the evolving energy flows at Kalundborg.

This web of recycling and reuse has generated new revenues and cost savings for the companies involved and reduced pollution to air, water, and land in the region. In ecological terms, Kalundborg exhibits the characteristics of a simple food web: organisms consume each other's waste materials and energy, thereby becoming interdependent with each other.

This pattern of inter-company reuse and recycling has reduced air, water, and ground pollution, conserved water and other resources, and generated new revenue streams from the byproducts exchanged.

Through 1993, the $60 million investment in infrastructure (to transport energy and materials) has produced $120 million in revenues and cost-savings. 
Lessons from Kalundborg

What can we learn from the Danes' experience over the past two decades? Here are some comments from those directly involved:

Jørgen Christensen, Vice President of Novo Nordisk at Kalundborg, identifies several conditions that are desirable for a similar web of exchanges to develop:

Kalundborg is a harbor town with buildings dating back to the 12th Century. District heating that uses steam from the Asnaes power station replaced highly polluting oil burning heaters in individual homes.
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