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.


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 project will establish the technical basis for the large-scale production—up to 200,000 tons per year—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.

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

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