2030 isn’t long off – the future of advanced biofuels (ERTC)

The use of biofuels is increasing industry-wide due to legislation incentives aimed at producing low greenhouse gas-emitting transport fuels. Feedstock used to produce this renewable diesel and jet fuel mostly consists of virgin oils (rapeseed, soybean, etc) and fatty acid-based waste (cooking oils or animal fats).

Sylvain Verdier, Magnus Zingler Stummann, Mikala Grubb and Jostein Gabrielsen
Haldor Topsoe A/S

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Article Summary

While this development is positive, the industry must look ahead to 2030, when legislation gets even tighter. Then, in Europe, 3.5% of transport fuels will have to be produced from feedstocks listed in Annex IX Part A in 2030. These feedstocks include the organic fraction of municipal waste, forestry residue, and sewage sludge.

Currently, there are no commercially available processes capable of meeting this demand. Research and development is ongoing, with several technologies showing potential for widespread commercial success. These include fast pyrolysis, catalytic pyrolysis, gasification and Fischer-Tropsch technology, and hydrothermal liquefaction.

Where biofuels are today
Biofuels currently consist of bioethanol, FAME, renewable diesel, and sustainable aviation fuels. Feedstocks used for these biofuels consist of mostly fatty acid-based virgin oils or animal fat and cooking oil waste. These feedstocks meet the requirements of today – but they will not meet the requirements of tomorrow.

The EU’s Annex IX Part A describes which types of waste are expected to be used to meet future legislation. Many of these feedstocks are solid waste originating from forestry residue or municipal solid waste (Figure 1).

Four promising thermochemical biofuel technologies
Several thermochemical technologies are capable of converting such waste into bio-oils or biocrudes. Four of them show promise for commercial success based on their operating parameters, yields, challenges, and implementation status (Table 1).

Partnering for biofuel research
Haldor Topsoe has been working to advance biocrude and bio-oil technology for the past decade, through partnerships with research institutes worldwide. Each of these technologies’ development stages varies, with some more suited for specific feedstocks than others.

For catalytic pyrolysis, Topsoe researchers are working with engineers from the Research Triangle Institute to develop technology that can produce and upgrade pyrolysis oil from woody biomass. Our research and development teams are also working on two projects that involve designing and upgrading Fischer-Tropsch products from municipal solid waste and woody residue. Two EU hydrothermal liquefaction projects also have Topsoe involvement. These are aimed at producing bio-oils and renewable fuels from urban waste.

Challenges and opportunities for future biofuel technologies
Advanced biofuels have tremendous potential to transform the world’s waste into valuable fuel. Regardless of the method, it will be hard work to mature these technologies to the point of widespread commercial success in 2030.

As with all renewable fuel production projects, a high-quality feedstock supply will be crucial. Regulatory affairs, logistics, and supply levels all must be balanced against each other in the process. Advanced infrastructure must be in place, and decisions must be made as to whether production units should be placed near the feedstock or the refinery.

The pretreatment process must also be considered. Pretreatment is an established technology for fatty acid-based feedstocks, but the development status for biocrude treatment is unclear. A clear process must be in place to remove contaminants. Upgrading strategies must also be established in the form of stand-alone units or co-processing.

As with any change, building and operating new units will come at a cost, especially for first movers. Incentives, legislation, and tax advantages should be factored into any cost analysis, though, since long-term savings can be achieved via lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The multiple challenges described above, combined with relatively immature technologies, show that 2030 is not the distant future. The time is now to address challenges, further develop biofuel technology, and act to meet the legislative needs of today – and tomorrow.

This short article originally appeared in the 2020 ERTC Newspaper, produced by PTQ / DigitalRefining.

You can view the digital issue here - https://online.flippingbook.com/view/1029582

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