Bio-oil (via pyrolysis / thermochemical conversion)


This page covers biofuels produced from Bio-oil (bio-crude) produced in dedicated facilities by pyrolysis and thermochemical conversion.

Bio-oil production

A number of research projects and companies are developing innovative processes to turn a wide range of biomass (forestry residues, crop residues, waste paper and organic waste) into stable, concentrated bio-oil (biocrude) that is compatible with existing refinery technology and can be converted into advanced biofuels.

For example, in the HTU® (hydrothermal upgrading) process, originally developed by Shell, biomass is treated with water at high temperature and pressure (300-350°C & 120-180 bar) to produce bio-crude. This can be separated by flashing or extraction to heavy crude (suitable for co-combustion in coal power stations) and light crude, which can be upgraded by hydrodeoxygenation (HDO) to advanced biofuels (Source: Biofuel BV presentation).

Updates on fast pyrolysis are included on the PyroKnown website, which is dedicated to sharing knowledge and learning about biomass fast pyrolysis. See PyroWiki, PyroWebinar, PyroMovies, PyroLearn

Definitions of 'Fast Pyrolysis Bio-oil' FPBO

In January 2014, a REACH Fast Pyrolysis Bio-Oil (FPBO) consortium was formed in Europe, and determined the following definition for FPBO: "Liquid condensate recovered by thermal treatment of lignocellulosic biomass, at short hot vapour residence time (typically less than about 10 seconds) typically at between 450 - 600°C at near atmospheric pressure or below, in the absence of oxygen."

The consortium is managed by Linnunmaa Oy and the lead registrant is Fortum.

Properties and composition of FPBO, along with further details of the FPBO REACH consortium, were published in PyNe Newsletter 34 produced by IEA Task 34. A series of handbooks on the Fast Pyrolysis of Biomass have been published by PyNe (Vol 1: ISBN 9781872691077, Vol 2: ISBN 1872691471, Vol 3: ISBN 1872691927).

Standards for fast pyrolysis bio-oil

CEN/TC 19/WG 41 is currently developing standards for fast pyrolysis oils in response to EC mandate M/525 (2013). Three standards will be developed for replacement of heavy fuel oil, light fuel oil and for use of bio-oils in stationary combusiton engines. Later, two furtrher technical specifications may also be introduced for use of fast pyrolysis oils as gasfication feedstocks and for mineral oil refinery co-processing, as and when required. 

Industrial scale demonstration of pyrolysis technology

Fortum Bio-oil plant at Joensuu

In March 2014, it was announced that Fortum, UPM and Valmet will work together on a five-year project LignoCat (Lignocellulosic Fuels by Catalytic Pyrolysis) to develop and commercialize integrated catalytic pyrolysis technology to produce biofuels from cellulosic feedstocks. The project is funded by Tekes - the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation.

In March 2012, Fortum, Finland announced an investment of ~ EUR 20 million to build a bio-oil plant, based on fast pyrolysis technology, connected to the Joensuu CHP plant, which will be the " first of its kind in the world on an industrial scale."

The integrated plant aims to produce electricity and district heat and 50,000 tonnes of bio-oil per year. The bio-oil raw materials include forest residues and other wood based biomass. Construction of the bio-oil commenced during 2012, and the plant started production in November 2013. Bio-oil production will increase the energy wood consumption at Joensuu power plant almost doubling the use from the existing 300,000 m3 per year. Savon Voima will begin using the bio-oil in its standby heat station in Iisalmi, Finland, at the start of 2014. [Source: Fortum]

pdf iconFrom concept to demonstration: developing an advanced biofuel project - Presentation from EBTP SPM5 February 2013

Jukka Heiskanen, Head of R&D, Fortum

Empyro Fast Plyrolysis Plant

On 20 May 2015, BTG - Biomass Technology Group BV announced the opening of the Empyro 25 MWth polygeneration pyrolysis plant to produce electricity, process steam and fuel oil from woody biomass. In January 2014 Empyro BV has started construction of its pyrolysis oil production facility in Hengelo, the Netherlands. Start-up of the installation commenced in early 2015 and production is gradually being increased. Empyro BV is jointly owned by BTG BioLiquids, Tree Power, the province of Overijssel and a private investor. The project was initially supported by the EC FP7 Empyro project.

BTG's fast pyrolysis technology was originally based on the rotating cone reactor (RCR). Biomass particles at room temperature and hot sand particles are introduced near the bottom of the cone, where the solids are mixed and transported upwards by the rotating action of the cone. In the current process 70 wt.% bio-oil and 30 wt.% char and gas are produced as primary products [Source: BTG].

Green Fuel Nordic biorefinery

Green Fuel Nordic Oy plans to build up to 20 biorefineries in Finland, each producing 90,000 tons of RFO (Renewable Fuel Oil). The first GFN biorefinery is under construction in Iisalmi, using Rapid Thermal Processing™ RTP technology.

NER300 projects in Estonia and Latvia

2 pyrolysis projects using wood waste were selected for counterpart funding under the second phase of NER300 (in Summer 2014). These included a fast pyrolysis plant in Estonia to convert 130,000 tonnes of wood chips to pyrolysis oil, and a CHP pyrolysis facility in Latvia using 100,000 tonnes of wood chips. Both plants plan to export pyrolysis oil to replace heavy fuel oil in Sweden and Finland.

Ensyn, Canada, commercial pyrolysis process

In Canada, Ensyn is using Rapid Thermal Processing (RTP)™ technology to generate high yields of pyrolysis oil (typically 65-75wt% pyrolysis oil from dried lignocellulosic biomass). Ensyn's commercial process is currently used for production of chemicals and food flavourings (100 tonnes of wood per day). Up to end of 2014, 37m gallons of product had been produced using Ensyn RTP technology [Source IEA Task 34 / PyNe newsletter Jan 2015]. Current strategic relationships include UOP, Fibria Celulose, Chevron Technology Ventures, Petrobras/NREL and Credit Suisse.

bioCRACK, Austria

The bioCRACK process represents a new biomass-to-liquid concept to generate advanced biofuel by liquid-phase pyrolysis. A liquid heat carrier vacuum gas oil (VGO), an intermediate heavy oil product from the vacuum distillation, is used. From autumn 2012 a fully integrated pilot plant at Schwechat Refinery, Austria, with a nominal biomass capacity of 100 kg/h, was in continuous operation, generating data for up-scaling the technology to an industrial scale.


IEA Task 34 / PyNe - updates on the latest Pyrolysis R&D&D

Recent developments in fuels and chemicals from pyrolysis are regularly published by PyNe IEA Bioenergy Task 34 on Pyrolysis (which evolved from the Pyrolysis Network).

In particular, PyNe publishes updates on pyrolysis developments by country, and developments with pyrolysis priority topics.

View PyNe newsletters for latest R&D&D news.

EU-funded Research relevant to Biocrude/Bio-oil

BIOCOUP - Co-processing of upgraded bio-liquids in standard refinery units (FP6 - 518312)

BIOCAT - Catalyst Development For Catalytic Biomass Flash Pyrolysis Producing Promissing Liquid Bio-Fuels
(FP5 – ENK6 - 00510)

CASCATBEL - CAScade deoxygenation process using tailored nanoCATalysts for the production of BiofuELs from lignocellullosic biomass aims to design, optimize and scale-up a novel multi-step process for the production of second-generation liquid biofuels from lignocellulosic biomass in a cost-efficient way through the use of next-generation high surface area tailored nano-catalysts (FP7).

EMPYRO - Polygeneration through pyrolysis: Simultaneous production of oil, process steam, electricity and organic acids (FP7 - 239357)

Further links and reports on combustion, pyrolysis and gasification of biomass were collated by the ThermalNet project (funded under Altener, IEE). The final report of ThermalNet - Thermal Biomass Conversion (ISBN 9781872691534) - was published in November 2009.

Research and Demonstration developments in bio-oil / biocrude

ExxonMobil announced in October 2014 it is establishing two research projects with Iowa State University on fast pyrolysis of biomass. CENUSA Bioenergy, led by Iowa State University and supported by a $25m funding from USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, previously developed fast pyrolysis technology to convert energy grasses into bio-oil for production of advanced biofuels.

In February 2015, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency announced $5.2m funding for the Renergi pilot bio-oil facility in Perth. The $12.9m project aims to be operational be end of 2017.

Researchers at Purdue University, US, have demonstrated a new method to produce bio-oil via fast-hydropyrolysis-hydrodeoxygenation (H2Biooil), which involves adding hydrogen to the biomass-processing reactor, and uses a new platinum-molybdenum catalyst and innovative reactor design. Biomass along with hydrogen is fed into a high-pressure reactor and heated rapidly (within a second) to 500° C. The technique has proved succesful at lab scale with a wide variety of biomass. The researchers previously invented an approach called "hybrid hydrogen-carbon process" or H2CAR [Source: Rakesh Agrawal et al, Purdue University].

In 2014, University of the Basque Country has continued development and demonstration of conical spouted bed technology for biomass flash pyrolysis, offering more stable operation and higher bio-oil yields.

NextFuels is developing a pilot facility in Asia, based on Shell's hydrothermal process, to convert palm waste to 'green crude' [Source: NextFuels, August 2013].

In Sienna, Italy, Coll'Energia has announced it will use Envergent's RTP™ technology for a power plant converting wood residues to power via pyrolysis, enabling the plant to generate 10% more power from the same amount of biomass. The 12.8 MW power plant will generate 100m kWh from 85000 tonnes of biomass per annum, potentially saving 35000 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

In 2013 the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) was awarded a $6.86 million Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI) grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to lead a 14 member industry/ university consortium on the “FarmBio3“ project 'Distributed On-Farm Bioenergy, Biofuels and Biochemicals Development and Production via Integrated Catalytic Thermolysis'.

The Fraunhofer UMSICHT Department of Biorefinery and Biofuels, is also investigating the potential for on-farm conversion of biomass residues to bio-oil.

In the United States, KiOR (now Inaeris Technologies) developed a proprietary (catalytic pyrolsis) technology platform to convert biomass feedstocks into renewable crude oil, which can be converted, using standard refinery equipment, into gasoline, diesel and fuel oil blendstocks. KiOR developed a commercial facility in Columbus, Mississippi. In March 2014, KiOR announced that it would idle the Columbus plant due to financial difficulties. In November 2014, KiOR Inc. filed a voluntary petition for Chapter 11 bankruptcy (the filing does not include the Columbus biorefinery).

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is invesigating the "reaction blocking" effects of the bio-product phenol when upgrading bio-oil to biofuels via catalysts. Researchers found that phenol is converted to ketones, which form long chains and slow down reactions on the surface of the metal catalysts. Water molecules were found to play an important role in the formation of ketones.

In the US, Blue Sun Energy, ARA Inc. and Chevron Lummus Global operate a Biofuels Isoconversion (BIC) demonstration facility in St. Joseph, Mo (4200 gallons per day). ARA’s patented Catalytic Hydrothermolysis (CH) process converts plant oils into a high quality crude oil intermediate. CLG’s Isoconversion Catalysts upgrade the 'biocrude' into drop in biojet fuel and advanced biodiesel.

In April 2013, Mercurius Biorefining received $4.6m funding from US DOE for a pilot plant to demonstrate its patent-pending Renewable Acid-hydrolysis Condensation Hydrotreating (REACH) technology to produce 'green crude' as an intermediate for advanced biofuel production. The company produces diesel and jet fuel hydrocarbons through a solid-bed-catalytic process analogous to that used for conversion of crude in the petroleum industry.

Battelle has developed a mobile catalytic pyrolysis unit for converting wood waste into bio-oil. A one-ton-per-day pilot system is being evaluated using pine waste in West Jefferson, Ohio.

Dynamotive Energy Systems Corporation (ceased trading in 2008) demonstrated a neutral fast pyrolysis technology that used medium temperatures and oxygen-free conditions to turn dry waste biomass into bio-oil for power and heat generation (and conversion into transport fuels).

The Bionic Group has developed microwave liquefaction and catalytic depolymerisation technologies for converting biogenic wastes to light oils, which can then be converted to biofuels.

In April 2012, US DoE announced up to $15m funding for demonstration of biomass-based oil precursors (biocrude) for renewable transportation fuels.

Green EnviroTech Holdings Corp. (GETH) processes recovered plastic and tyres and produces light sweet crude oil as one end product.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst has granted exclusive global rights to Anellotech for its catalytic fast pyrolysis (CFP) technology for producing biogasoline and other biohydrocarbon fuels from waste biomass.

The Huber Biofuesl Research Group carries out R&D on Catalytic Fast Pyrolysis and has developed a pilot plant for Pyrolysis Oil Production and Upgrading 

See also Ensyn (Canada).

The Pyrogrot project, Sweden (previously selected for NER300 funding) to be discontinued

On 16 December 2013, BillerudKorsnäs announced that it would not continue to develop the Pyrogrot project. The company's press release stated that: "Technical solutions are at hand for the production of pyrolysis oil but the commercial environment at current conditions, and as assumed in the short to mid-term future development, is not solid enough."

On 18 December 2012 it was announced that Pyrogrot project, Sweden, has been selected to receive counterpart funding of €31.4m under the first call for proposals of the NER300 funding programme for innovative low-carbon technologies. The Project concerns the construction and operation of a plant for the production of pyrolysis oil using forest residues as feedstock. The design capacity was 160000 t/year of pyrolysis oil with the energy content estimated at about 750 GWh.

[Source: SWD(2012) 224 final: NER300 - Moving towards a low carbon economy and boosting innovation, growth and employment across the EU]