The USDA estimates that Fischer-Tropsch diesel using biomass as the feedstock (Biomass-to-Liquid, or BTL) may replace up to 13% of Germany’s current diesel use.
Biodiesel is the most popular biofuel in Germany, with an estimated annual production capacity of 1.1 million tons in 2004 and actual sales in 2004 of 323,000 tons. The German government has been very supportive in promoting biodiesel as a fuel alternative, but recent changes to German tax law, combined with various other factors, are now opening the door to other biofuels in Germany.
A new plant under construction by Choren Industries at Freiberg will use a version of the Fischer-Tropsch process to convert wood and other biomass to synthetic diesel fuel. Still in its experimental stage, the project is due to put its first industrial-scale plant with an annual capacity of 13,000 metric tons online this year. Plans call for a subsequent commercial plant with a 200,000 tons/year capacity in 2008.
Both DaimlerChrysler and Volkswagen have been collaborating with Choren on the production of what the company calls SunDiesel since 2002...and for a very sound short-term reason as well as long-term benefits.
The results of initial studies show that the many Euro-3 diesel vehicles can already fulfil the Euro 4 emissions standard with no technical modifications when run on SunDiesel. This shows the enormous potential of this synthetic fuel to reduce hydrocarbon (HC), nitrogen oxide (NOx) and particle emissions and its major contribution to protecting the environment and the climate. (Volkswagen)
The key to Choren’s system is its patented Carbo-V gasification process—the means by which it converts biomass into a synthetic gas. (Diagram at right.)
The raw gas produced in this process can be used as a combustion gas to produce electricity and heat or as a synthesis gas for producing synthetic renewable automotive fuels, methanol and paraffins through a Fischer-Tropsch reaction.
Unlike biodiesel production, BTL uses the entire plant, thus theoretically requiring less land use per unit of energy.
The combined process of energy conversion and Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, however, is energy intensive—and more so when using biomass as a feedstock than natural gas. On a Well-to-Wheels basis, BTL diesel is far better from a greenhouse gas emissions perspective than any other variant of synthetic or conventional petroleum fuel (except for DME from biomass) or conventional biofuel, but the worst in terms of energy requirement.
The charts below come from a joint evaluation performed by EUCAR, CONCAWE and JRC (the Joint Research Centre of the EU Commission, IES Ispra) of the Well-to-Wheels energy use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for a wide range of potential future fuel and powertrain options i a European context. In the chart to the left, you’ll see the relative position of BTL against GTL and conventional fuels, plotted against energy requirements and GHG emissions. The chart to the right similarly plots biofuels. (Click to enlarge.)
DaimlerChrysler and Volkswagen are both very bullish about the prospects for BTL from the emissions side. DaimlerChrysler has estimated that BTL fuels could achieve a 10% market share in Europe by 2015, for example.
Sounds like the USDA agrees.