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BIOCOUP: Refinery-Based Production of Renewable Fuels and Chemicals

The BIOCOUP project structure and different steps of the processing route. Click to enlarge.

A European research consortium is working to develop a process to allow a range of different biomass feedstocks to be co-fed to a conventional oil refinery to produce renewable fuels and oxygenated chemicals.

The overall objective of the five-year BIOCOUP Integrated Project, which is sponsored by the European Commission and coordinated by Finland’s VTT, is to upgrade biomass-derived liquids to make them suitable for refinery co-processing. A secondary objective is the separation of valuable chemicals from biomass and biomass–derived liquids prior to the upgrading.

The consortium has established five main objectives for the project:

  • To develop processes of primary fractionation and biomass liquefaction to produce quality-controlled bio-oils;

  • To develop bio-liquid upgrading technology such as deoxygenation, including development of specific catalysts, and to scale it up to PDU-scale;

  • To study co-processing opportunities of biomass derived components in archetypal refinery units;

  • To produce discrete oxygenated target chemicals; and

  • To evaluate the most promising optimized biomass-refinery chains (biomass feedstock to final products) through scenario analysis based on estimates of the technical, economical and LCA (life-cycle analysis) performances of the chains.

Accordingly, BIOCOUP comprises six sub-projects: 

  1. Biomass liquefaction and energy production: To reduce bio-oil production costs by up to 30% through an innovative integrated bio-oil concept from a number of biomass feedstocks (initially especially residues from forestry industries). This project also aims to further the development of methods to fractionate black liquor and to convert certain fractions into bio-refinery feedstocks.

  2. Upgrading technologies: To develop de-oxygenation technology and scale it up to process development unit-scale. Primary bio-liquids typically have oxygen contents of about 50% and cannot be processed in standard refinery units. Current de-oxygenation processes are not mature and are very expensive due to high hydrogen costs. This sub project aims to develop a new technology for decreasing this oxygen content.

  3. Evaluation of upgraded bio-liquids in standard refinery units: To assess the viability of upgraded bio-liquids co-processing in a standard refinery regarding the technical and economical feasibility. The parameters of the refinery units most viable for bio-liquid co-processing will be defined, as well as the required changes depending on the bio-liquid specifications.

    The products derived from biomass-derived refinery co-processing will be intrinsically chemically indistinguishable from their fossil-fuel based counterparts. This will allow a seamless integration of bio-refinery co-processing products to the end consumer for products such as transport fuels and chemicals.

  4. Conversion to chemicals: To identify optimal recovery and fractionation strategies and technologies for the production of discrete target compounds from bio-liquids produced in the first two sub projects (SP1 and SP2).

  5. Scenario and life cycle analysis: To outline a low-risk, low-cost development path for the most promising bio-refinery chains based on stage-wise validation, demonstration and implementation.

  6. Transversal activities: To optimize the impact of the project by a structured management and the efficient coordination of transversal activities (standardization, exploitation and dissemination).   

The project is supported by the European Commission through the Sixth Framework Programme for Research and Development with a grant of up to €7.6 million (US$10.3 million).





Unlike the corn ethanol madness over here in the US (yes, alcohol makes you stupid), this has some real potential.

I wonder if they are going to consider waste paper as a feedstock. Over here, 35 - 40% of landfill feed (by mass) is paper. That's after all the ballyhoo about recycling paper. Paper is free of many of the nasties that complicates processing forestry waste, so it should be easier to process. And no transportation needed, just site the plant at the landfill.


I think that the whole plant energy, chemical and materials industries are going to have a lot of growth in the near future.

After all, you just grow the plant, harvest the food and and sell the products made from the rest of the plants for a whole lot of money.

Rafael Seidl

Finland's forestry and paper industries are as big as Sweden's (each approx. 1/3 of total European market) and black liquor is nasty stuff. I hope this project will succeed, though the cost of hydrogen production/logistics remains a major stumbling block for upgrading biocrud(e) into transportation fuels and specialty chemicals.


Black liquor isn't nasty staff. It's used as fuel in onsite combined heat and power plants - at least in Finland and Sweden. The heat is used as process heat in the paper&pulp plant and electricity is either used onsite or sold to the power market.

I don't see any major energy gains in diverting the energy in black liquor into traffic fuels instead of using it in producing heat or electricity. Heat and power have to be produced in some other way if not produced with black liquor. One might be able to preserve the exergy better though. Economic gains could be there, since traffic fuels tend to be quite expensive.

Using biomass residues that would not be otherwise used would make sense energywise as well, but then I would be really careful to see that nutrients get back to the fields or forests in a sound manner (no major leaching into waterways and no GHG in the form of N2O).



Black liquor is universally combusted in NA P&P plants too. Practically all plants are energy independent. However, remaining huge quantities of bark are good candidate to gasification into liquid fuels, and sludge from log washing is good candidate for anaerobic digestion into biogas.

Cheryl Ho

There are developments in DME in China today!
We see great potential for DME as a clean alternative fuel . The present diesel oil is a major source of air pollution from diesel engine of trucks and busses in large city like Tokyo. The potential market of diesel oil substitute is larger than LPG. DME is one of ideal fuel for diesel engine. DME vehicles were demonstratively manufactured in Japan, China and Korea and their driving test already started. Practical durability fleet test of a DME truck is under going in Japan.

We are pleased to organise a conference on China taking the lead in the DME market in production from coal and Japan and Korea activities.

If you would like to know more on COAL to Syngas to DME developments, join us at upcoming North Asia DME / Methanol conference in Beijing, 27-28 June 2007, St Regis Hotel. The conference covers key areas which include:

DME productivity can be much higher especially if
country energy policies makes an effort comparable to
that invested in increasing supply.
National Development Reform Commission NDRC
Ministry of Energy for Mongolia

Production of DME/ Methanol through biomass
gasification could potentially be commercialized
Shandong University completed Pilot plant in Jinan and
will be sharing their experience.

Advances in conversion technologies are readily
available and offer exciting potential of DME as a
chemical feedstock
By: Kogas, Lurgi and Haldor Topsoe

Available project finance supports the investments
that DME/ Methanol can play a large energy supply role
By: International Finance Corporation

For more information:

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