Canadian Biomass Magazine

Gasification method turns forest waste into biofuels

July 5, 2013
By Canadian Biomass

July 5, 2013 – Lignocellulosic biomass can be used in the production of high-quality biofuels for the price of less than one euro per litre, according to research results of the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

A new technology developed in Finland allows the transfer of more than
half the energy of wood raw materials to the end-product. The technology
is considered ready for the construction of a commercial-scale
production plant in Europe.

VTT has assessed the techno-economics of the production of renewable
liquid transportation fuels from forest residues. The case studies
focused on the production of four biofuels using a method based on
pressurized fluidized-bed gasification. The fuels studied were methanol,
dimethyl ether (DME), Fischer-Tropsch liquids and synthetic gasoline.

The results show that the production of renewable biofuels from
lignocellulosic biomass, mainly bark and forestry residues, could
achieve an energy efficiency of 50 per cent, depending on the end-product and
process conditions. Should the thermal energy produced as a by-product
be exploited for district heat or industrial steam, for example, the
overall efficiency from biomass to saleable energy products could reach
74 per cent.

Based on the case studies, the research scientists estimated that
once commercialized the technology can be used to produce liquid
transportation fuel at the cost of 58 €/MWh. Converted into
gasoline-equivalent price per litre, the estimated production cost would
be 0.5.7 €/litre. The price of renewable solutions would thus be on a
level with the current pre-tax price of fossil transportation fuels, and
cheaper than existing imported biofuels.


Each case study design was based on a BTL plant with 300 MW
capacity, the equivalent of a large district heating power plant. A
biorefinery of this size could produce liquid transportation fuel for
about 150,000 cars. The EU has set a target of 10 per cent renewable energy
content for the transportation sector by 2020. For Finland, the target
is 20 per cent.

After long-term development work, the technical functionality of the
production process was verified through extensive testing at VTT test
rigs as well as industrial piloting in Finland and in the U.S. The
technology is now ready for its first commercial-scale demonstration.
However, the first wave of these ground-breaking production plants
requires significant public venture capital investment, for which
planning has consequently been initiated at both Finnish and EU level.

According to the research results, the best efficiency and lowest
production costs were achieved in the production of biomethanol. The
risks related to the commercialisation of the synthesis technology were
also estimated to be lower with the biomethanol production plant
compared to the other options.

Methanol is an alcohol fuel that can be used in modern cars at
maximum 3 vol-% content in combination with petrol or, as with ethanol,
in high concentrations in FlexFuel cars designed for this purpose.
Methanol can also be further converted to synthetic gasoline or used as
renewable raw material in the manufacture of various chemicals and


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