Monday, September 06, 2010

Waste to Oil at the University of Twente

Researchers at a Dutch university claim to have developed a new type of oil-from-biomass which is superior to pyrolysis oil. The researchers state that their biomass-to-oil process yields an oil which can be fed directly into oil refineries for further processing -- without the expensive pre-processing required by typical pyrolysis oils.
Pyrolysis oil will only react with hydrogen at high pressure, high temperature, and in the presence of a catalyst.

The oil produced using the new method, however, can be fed directly into existing refineries, said the scientist.

"This upgrading process produces a mixture of an aqueous fraction and an oil fraction. The oil fraction can go directly to the refinery," he said. "We are therefore studying ways of improving efficiency, to cut the amount of hydrogen used to the bare minimum."

The scientists are already on the right track. They recently applied for two patents on techniques that have yielded promising results.

Comparing with the first generation biomass, the production of this new method has obvious advantage. "Those biofuels mainly use ethanol and sugar cane, which are known as edible or first-generation biomass," said Kersten. "We work with next-generation biomass, which consists of forestry and agricultural waste. This is available in much greater quantities, and it imposes less of a burden on the environment." _Xinhua
Biomass is made of cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. It takes a lot of energy to convert these biochemicals into hydrocarbons suitable for use as fuels in modern engines. Whether via pyrolysis, gasification, or a similar process, the energy requirement for processing and refining biomass into hydrocarbons removes significant amounts of yield from a feedstock that is already low in energy density compared to coal and oil.

That is what makes the emergence of thermochemical biomass to fuels processes in the marketplace so difficult. Just a few simple breakthroughs might improve yields enough to make these fuels competitive with petro-fuels in Europe. If the Dutch bio-oil is better than pyrolysis oil, and can be produced as economically, it will probably find a use.

It is preferable to find alternative fuels as close in characteristics to fuels already used as possible. That is why NExBTL is considered superior to biodiesel, and why butanol is superior to ethanol. The future of biofuels will be with these more advanced fuels, not with ethanol or conventional biodiesel. But it will take roughly 10 years to make that transition.



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