Forestry residue not for wasting


Research by VTT shows that lignocellulosic biomass can be used in the production of high-quality biofuels for the price of less than one euro per litre. New technologies developed in Finland allow transfer of more than half the energy of wood raw materials to the end-product.

Transport fuel can be produced efficiently from forestry residue using a method developed in Finland based on pressurised fluidised-bed gasification. Production of renewable biofuels from lignocellulosic biomass, mainly forestry residue derived from regeneration felling and thinning, could achieve an energy-efficiency rate of 50–67%, depending on the end-product and process conditions. Should the thermal energy produced as a by-product be exploited for district heat or industrial steam, for example, the total efficiency rate of biomass use could reach 74–80%. Besides oxygen gasification technology for big production plants, VTT is developing a new more cost-efficient process suitable also for smaller production plants. This will help the commercialisation and introduction of the new technology into industrial use.

In addition to gasification methods, VTT has developed pyrolysis technology for production of biofuels. VTT and the US firm PNNL (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory) have joined forces to seek solutions to the biggest processing challenges: high hydrogen consumption and catalyst deactivation. Hydrogen consumption and production costs are reduced throughout the production chain with the aid of AspenPlus™ simulation software and through development of the hydrogenation process.

The process involves bio-oil, produced using boilers in the forest industry or in district heating, being transported to an oil refinery to be processed alongside other oil types. The particular advantage of the new gasification method lies in allowing phased growth of production capacity, reducing the risk for entrepreneurs investing in the value chain.

Finland is a forerunner in the commercialisation of lignocellulosic biomass pyrolysis technology. Metso built a plant for Fortum at Joensuu which will have an annual bio-oil production of 50,000 tonnes. Metso, UPM and VTT cooperated in developing the new technology, the research forming part of Tekes' Biorefine programme. During the first phase, the bio-oil will be used in district heating boilers to replace fossil fuels.

Fortum received the international Special Award for Innovation at the Global District Energy Climate Awards Gala for its plans for combining the bio-oil plant under construction at Joensuu with the existing CHP system and district heating network.

VTT was awarded by EARTO, the European Association of Research and Technology Organisations, for the breakthrough work in the development of technology combining pyrolysis and fluidised-bed gasification in 2012.

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