European biofuel consortium plans for biomass-to-liquid production plant

Optfuel group chooses initial vendors to design process for second-generation plant, turning wood residue into liquid transport fuel.

05/06/2009


Optfuel-IPS project summary
- Project starts with cultivation of 200 hectares (495 acres) of fast-growing willow, poplar, and robinia trees.
- 15,000 tpy pilot-plant project will establish the technical basis for the large-scale production—up to 200,000 tpy—of biomass-to-liquid (BtL) products from wood chips;
- Wood residue is gasified at 1,400 °C (2,500 °F) and recombined into sulfur- and aromatics-free liquids; and
- BtL can be used in vehicles, either in pure form or blended with conventional fossil fuels.

Optfuel, a European consortium researching the feasibility of using second-generation biofuels to power automobiles, is launching the initial steps to implement large-scale production of second-generation transport biofuels based on wood and forestry residues.

Invensys Process Systems (IPS), a member of the consortium, will provide process simulation, design, and optimization technologies for the new plant. The Optfuel project kicked off in February with a planning meeting of all the consortium partners, including Ford, Renault, and Volkswagen from the automotive sector; Choren Industries , a Freiberg, Germany-based engineering company; Conservation of Clean Air and Water in Europe (CONCAWE), representing the European mineral oil industry; and representatives of research institutes from France (IFP), Greece (CERTH), India (IITD) and the German project consultant Syncom.

“IPS is already very active in the design and simulation of green-engineering applications for second-generation biofuels with clients around the world,” said Gregor Fernholz, IPS senior technical consultant. “Joining the Optfuel consortium emphasizes our commitment to research and development, and it will help increase our presence in this fast-growing sector as we search for alternative solutions to meet global demand.”

The 15,000 tpy pilot-plant project will establish the technical basis for the large-scale production—up to 200,000 tpy—of biomass-to-liquid (BtL) products from wood chips that can be used in vehicles, either in pure form or blended with conventional fossil fuels. The production process involves the gasification of wood residues at 1,400 °C (2,500 °F), followed by recombination of the gasified residues into sulfur- and aromatics-free liquids. Advanced biofuels for evaluation in this project will be produced at Choren Industries’ Freiberg beta plant. The BtL demonstration will begin with the cultivation of 200 hectares (495 acres) of fast-growing willow, poplar, and robinia trees on land near the Freiberg facility.

Choren biofuels
More on Choren .

Automotive manufacturers and the oil industry will then work together to blend the BtL liquids, evaluate their exhaust emissions and explore their potential in current and future engine technologies. Earlier projects have shown that vehicles operating on unblended BtL fuel can achieve considerable reductions in exhaust emissions. In addition, the consortium will evaluate the economic aspects and potential of reducing energy and greenhouse emissions from all parts of the BtL production process. Technical issues associated with wood plantations for energy applications will also be thoroughly examined.

“BtL is one of the biofuels which can make a substantial contribution towards maintaining individual mobility. Therefore, Optfuel is part of the fuel and power train strategy of Volkswagen,” says Dr. Frank Seyfried, head of the department for fuels and fuel cells in the group research for Volkswagen.

Can this technology offer large enough potential volumes to displace a significant amount of oil consumption? Choren reckons that global biomass production exceeds oil consumption by five-fold. The net primary production, i.e. the radiation energy from the sun that is biologically absorbed in biomass, amounts to approximately 50 billion tons of crude oil equivalent units every year. Compare this with mankind’s current primary energy requirements of approximately 9.7 billion tons of crude oil equivalent units every year. Of course, only part of the biomass that grows can actually be recovered for energy use, both for ecological, technical, and economic reasons. Yet there remains a huge amount of biomass that is very suitable for exploitation.

The 10 partners from five countries who are pooling their skills to optimize the production of BtL liquids expect it to be a three-and-a-half-year project. The European Union is supporting the project with€7.8 million of funding within the 7th Framework Program for Research and Technological Development (Grant 218890).

—Edited by Peter Welander, process industries editor, PWelander@cfemedia.com
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