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More energy from a litre of biofuel

July 25, 2014, Enschede, Netherlands - Oil produced from biomass - such as wood chips or plant residues - seldom has the same quality and energy content as ‘classical’ crude oil. A new, simple catalyst, developed at the University of Twente, improves the quality of this oil before it is even transported to the refinery.


July 25, 2014
By Twente University

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July 25, 2014, Enschede, Netherlands – Oil produced from
biomass – such as wood chips or plant residues – seldom has the same quality
and energy content as ‘classical’ crude oil. A new, simple catalyst, developed
at the University of Twente, improves the quality of this oil before it is even
transported to the refinery.

 

This technology was selected from dozens of projects for the
follow-up of CATCHBIO, the national research program that is helping to realize
the European 2020 objective: 20% of fuel must come from renewable sources by
2020.

 

The oil in current-generation biofuel does not come from
fruit or seed, such as palm or rape seed oil but, for example, from plant
residues, pruning waste and wood chips. As a result, there is no longer any
undesirable competition with the food supply. Converting plant residues, which
take up a lot of space, into oil simplifies transport considerably and the
product can go directly to a refinery. Blending with crude oil is already
possible. However, the quality of this oil does not yet equal that of crude
oil. It has a lower energy content per litre, is acid and still contains too
much water. The catalyst developed by Prof. Leon Lefferts and Prof. Kulathuiyer
Seshan’s group Catalytic Processes and Materials (MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology/Green
Energy Initiative) significantly improves the quality and energy content of the
oil.

 

This is realized by heating the oil in nitrogen to 500
degrees Celsius and by applying a simple catalyst: sodium carbonate on a layer
of alumina. By using this method, the energy content of the oil can be boosted
from 20 to 33-37 megajoule per kilogram, which is better than crude oil and
approximates the quality of diesel. The technology, recently defended by PhD
candidate Masoud Zabeti, is already being tested by KIOR in Texas, USA, on a
small industrial scale, with a production of 4,500 barrels of oil per day. The
quality of the oil can be improved even more by adding the material caesium, as
well as sodium carbonate. “By doing so, we can, for instance, also reduce the
aromatics, which are harmful when inhaled”, says Prof. Seshan.

 

The technology is currently being further studied, in
cooperation with the University of Groningen, the Energy research Centre of the
Netherlands (ECN) and Utrecht University, in a new CATCHBIO programme of the
Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). The Netherlands is
committed to leading the way in research on technology that will help realize
the European 2020 fuel objective.


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