According to the new research results of the VTT Technical Research Centre of
Finland, lignocellulosic biomass can be used in the production of high-quality
biofuels for the price of less than one euro per litre. A new technology
developed in Finland allows the transfer of more than half the energy of wood
raw materials to the end-product. The technology is considered ready for the
construction of a commercial-scale production plant in Europe.
VTT has assessed the techno-economics of the production of renewable liquid
transportation fuels from forest residues. The case studies focused on the
production of four biofuels using a method based on pressurised fluidised-bed
gasification. The fuels studied were methanol, dimethyl ether (DME),
Fischer-Tropsch liquids and synthetic gasoline.
The results show that the production of renewable biofuels from
lignocellulosic biomass, mainly bark and forestry residues, could achieve an
energy efficiency 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 overall efficiency
from biomass to saleable energy products could reach 74–80%.
Based on the case studies, the research scientists estimated that once
commercialised the technology can be used to produce liquid transportation
fuel at the cost of 58–78 €/MWh. Converted into gasoline-equivalent price per
litre, the estimated production cost would be 0.5–0.7 €/litre. The price of
renewable solutions would thus be on a level with the current pre-tax price of
fossil transportation fuels, and cheaper than existing imported biofuels.
Each case study design was based on a BTL plant with 300 MW capacity, the
equivalent of a large district heating power plant. A biorefinery of this size
could produce liquid transportation fuel for about 150 000 cars. The EU has
set a target of 10% renewable energy content for the transportation sector by
2020. For Finland, the target is 20%.
After long-term development work, the technical functionality of the
production process was verified through extensive testing at VTT test rigs as
well as industrial piloting in Finland and in the US. The technology is now
ready for its first commercial-scale demonstration. However, the first wave of
these ground-breaking production plants requires significant public venture
capital investment, for which planning has consequently been initiated at both
Finnish and EU level.
According to the research results, the best efficiency and lowest production
costs were achieved in the production of biomethanol. The risks related to the
commercialisation of the synthesis technology were also estimated to be lower
with the biomethanol production plant compared to the other options.
Methanol is an alcohol fuel that can be used in modern cars at maximum 3 vol-%
content in combination with petrol or, as with ethanol, in high concentrations
in FlexFuel cars designed for this purpose. Methanol can also be further
converted to synthetic gasoline or used as renewable raw material in the
manufacture of various chemicals and biomaterials.
The VTT publication can be found online here