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CHOREN Close to Site Selection for €500 Million BTL Plant in Germany

The Lubmin site. Click to enlarge.

CHOREN, a provider of gasification technology for solid biomass and oil-based residue feedstock, is close to selecting a site for an industrial-scale biomass-to-liquids (BTL) plant. The €500 million (US$660 million) plant will produce 4,500 barrels per day of synthetic BTL fuel.

The shortlist is down to five potential sites. The company currently internally views the former nuclear power station Greifswald/Lubmin as the leading candidate. Construction of the plant will begin in 2008; production is slated for 2010.

CHOREN plans to build more than 1 million tons of annual BTL production capacity within Germany and has recently commenced the assessment of international markets. CHOREN closely cooperates with Shell—which has a minority equity stake in CHOREN—as well as DaimlerChrysler and VW.

CHOREN is currently constructing a 15,000 t/a BTL plant at its Freiberg site. This plant will commence production in Autumn 2007.

Biomass to SunDiesel BTL fuel with Carbo-V gasification. Click to enlarge.

The heart of CHOREN’s technology is its patented Carbo-V Biomass-gasification process that converts biomass into ultra-clean tar-free synthetic gas.

The Carbo-V Process is a three-stage gasification process using:

  • Low-temperature gasification. Biomass (with a water content of 15%–20%) is continually carbonized through partial oxidation (low-temperature pyrolysis) with air or oxygen at temperatures between 400º C and 500° C, i.e. it is broken down into a gas containing tar (volatile parts) and solid carbon (char).

  • High-temperature gasification. The gas containing tar is post-oxidized using air and/or oxygen in a combustion chamber operating above the melting point of the fuel’s ash to turn it into a hot gasification medium.

  • Endothermic entrained bed gasification. The char is ground down into pulverized fuel and is blown into the hot gasification medium. The pulverized fuel and the gasification medium react endothermically in the gasification reactor and are converted into a raw synthesis gas. Once this has been treated in the appropriate manner, it can be used as a combustible gas for generating electricity, steam and heat or as a syngas.

The syngas can then be converted into synthetic biofuels using the same Shell Middle Distillate Synthesis (SMDS) technology that Shell has developed for Gas-to-Liquids production (conversion of natural gas into synthetic oil products). Shell’s SMDS is a low-temperature, cobalt catalyst-based version of the Fischer-Tropsch GTL process.



Jack Rosebro

Argh. Must they build this on a greenfield?


Yours is a typical knee-jerk reaction.

Do some due diligence and you will find that this is truely carbon neutral fuel. They are taking biomass byproducts that will lay on the ground, rot and produce co2 anyway, and making diesel and ethanol that will displace petroleum products. This technology is being furthered by MIT and several other organizations, funded by DOE just this week, to build plants here in this country that will use byproducts and EVEN MUNICIPAL SOLID WASTE to make fuel with.

This technology has the promise of cleaning up every landfill in the country and replacing up to 25% of the gasoline we use in this country. In tandem with PHEV's in the next five years, this technology could eliminate the import up to 75-80% of oil from all sources.

Search this site and for gasification and MSW.

This, along with PHEV's, is truly progress and a potentially disruptive technology for big oil.


The capital expenditure of nearly $US150,000 per barrel is quite high if that is a benchmark (660mill/4500). That means we are talking trillions to make a dent on oil replacement assuming there is enough feedstock. I'm suprised it isn't co-located with a sawmill or paper plant.

Jack Rosebro


I had addressed only the site selection. Haven't even addressed biomass itself.

Is there any specific reason why this plant must be built on forested land rather than used to revitalize a brownfield site? I'd be very surprised if you can think of one.


I don't get your math. That plant would produce over 1.6m bbls/yr(24/7) and it would run(amortize) for 30 years most likely. Also, the output is ready for sale fuel, not oil.


You consider a former nuclear power plant a greenfield?

Jack Rosebro

Rick: It is now (see photo). Surely this isn't the last place on earth left to build on.


Point taken about finished fuel not oil. However at current rates of depletion we need millions of barrels per day, not per year. If BTL and not ethanol is the holy grail to replace petroleum fuels we would need these plants everywhere in every country. Can a couple of pilot plants in Germany be the start of all of this? We can only hope it's not a dead end like corn ethanol.


EV's will be the holy grail(unless you believe fuel cell misinfo) but PHEV's will be the next best thing. And there will be need for liquid fuels for many years to come for heavy freight. But PHEV's getting 150mpg equivalent with the 1st 40 miles or so all electric can eliminate the demand for 50% of all gasoline since 50% of all drivers go less than 40 miles/day and 80% of all drivers go less than 60 miles/day. And that is being done today.

Now, since ethanol produced from Municipal Solid Waste can replace 25% of gasoline used in this country for under $1/gallon(see or this site) and since PHEV's can eliminate the demand for over 50% of all gasoline demand then we can quickly eliminate the need for imported oil, clean up every landfill in the country and take this country on a construction boom that will create a dream economy all in one. I think there should be one of these BTL plants in every city in the country over 100,000 population.

It's still not a greenfield site. It's just a former nuclear site with trees on it. Appears to me a good "highest and best use" for a former nuclear site and since they would have to knock down trees somewhere to build a plant that size anyway. It IS progress.

My hope is that this technology ramps up very fast and they are located at Landfill sites everywhere in the future. You should read MIT's report on "Ethanol from Trash". Search this site or for gasification, MSW.


I don't think anyone is taking into effect
that there are other cost factors thats not being taken into account,Health issues for example fossil fuel create asthma, stop the biomass going into landfills,there are a lot of long term goals. lets not forget security not buying oil from the middle east they can yell jihad from a camel with no money. this is a good start. there need not be 1 cure for the oil and green house problems i think it will be tackled in several directions


read this article from Wed right here on GCC:

You have to do a little background on the companies mentioned. Range Fuels, ALICO and Blue Fire plan to use significant amounts of MSW to produce their ethanol with.

This is great technology. What the public doesn't understand is that this is "Garbage to Ethanol" not "Corn Ethanol". As soon as the public figures this out, I think they will be all over it.

This should be National Priority:
1) Garbage to ethanol(sweet Yankee ingenuity)
2) Clean up landfills
3) Protect the water table and other health concerns
4) Eliminate oil imports


I think we ought to be limiting this to use for MSW and other dirty feed streams.  Even if they can get 70% throughput efficiency, you're still feeding internal combustion vehicles at 15% tank-to-wheels average; that gives you net efficiency barely over 10%.  A biomass stream which is clean enough to carbonize for DCFC's may yield upwards of 60% of the input energy as electricity, and well over 40% to wheels.  We don't have enough RE to throw away a factor of 4 improvement.

If the Choren system can process streams like plastic and waste tires, it'll be an enormous help in cleaning up some troublesome messes.


At $660 million for the plant, a 30 year operating life, 300 days of operation per year, and a discount rate of 10%, the "fixed" cost per barrel produced from this plant is about $50. Considering that b100 sells for $105 or more per barrel these days ($2.50 a gallon), this plant should have a decent amount of headroom for feedstock, labor, and other items.


Just a quick info on this:

The site was (most likely) chosen because it is right at the end of the Baltic natural gas pipeline. Shell - Chorens partner - needs a hydrogen source for that plant and it would make a lot of sense to do CTL, GTL and BTL all at the same site. Once you have to syngas the final process can be shared by all feedstocks.

The site has a harbor ... in order to bring in that cheap biomass from oversees. Because German farmers will not be able to provide the biomass at the price that Choren and Shell have defined.

Currently Choren is using wood as the feedstock. Claims are that they can use other sources as well ... but this does not seem to be proven as far as I can tell. So it is not a "trash - waste - digesting" technology.

Biomass to liquid at this scale is a nightmare because of all the required biomass transport. But below that scale it does not seem to be viable.

The systems conversion efficiency is in the ballpark of 40% ... which is one of the reasons why BTL might not be economically viable with domestic biomasse, because wood can replace heating oil and thereby the lowest market price level for wood is well defined.

Therefore Shell is basically asking our German government to ensure that BtL will no be taxed for the next 30 (?) years. Currently BtL is only tax free for approx 10 years. This means 20 risky years for a plant like Lubmin.

From my analysis BtL makes no sense. Biogas should receive a lot higher priority ... but "sadly" Shell does not own natural gas pipelines in Germany.



Substantial amounts of forestry waste, like mountains of bark accumulating near pulp&paper mills, could not be biodigested in principle. Coniferous tree biomass is lousy feedstock for anaerobic digestion too. The only BTL technology for such feedstock is gasification. Scandinavia import in mind?

I totally agree with you that collection/transportation cost of biomass will render the plant uneconomical, unless massive government subsidies will tip the economy of the process. Do not forget, that pricy feedstock also means a lot of energy spent on it collection/transportation.

Use of coal to substitute biomass is questionable, because coal requires expensive addition of desulfurisation step. I do not know how vise this plant will be for Germany, awash with dollars from trade balance surplus to buy oil at any conceivable price.

Rafael Seidl

Jack -

just because there are a few trees there doesn't make Greifswald-Lubmin a greenfield site.

In fact, it is home to five Soviet-era nuclear reactors that were shut down shortly after unification because they were dangerously unsafe. The site is now used for the "temporary" storage of nuclear waste produced by the complex plus that of another East German reactor that is currently being torn down. Ever since 1990, West German utilities and nuclear research facilities have tried to obtain permission to store some of their waste at the site as well. The existing storage facility at Gorleben is filling up. France and Belgium are also "temporarily" storing some of Germany's waste but would like to send it back.

In theory, the storage of nuclear waste is a federal issue in Germany. In practice, Chancellor Merkel's home state of Mecklenburg-Pommerania has consistently fought against becoming Germany's nuclear dumping ground, even on a "temporary" basis. At the SPD's insistence, the current grand coalition government remains committed to shutting down all remaining reactors in Germany by 2020. Polls show a majority of Germans still support this policy but it has softened in the wake of Russia's brinkmanship with Ukraine and Belarus plus the ongoing war in Iraq.

Germany currently generates some 20% of its electricity from its reactors. Replacing this base load capacity using renewables alone would be hugely expensive. Increased imports from e.g. France could cover some of the shortfall, but most of the rest would probably have to come from new gas-fired co-generation plants. That would increase Germany's dependence on Russian gas even further. The utility companies, supported not-so-sotto-voce by a number of senior politicians, would therefore like the operating permits for their reactors to be extended on the basis of their safety record.

That means it is entirely possible that Choren's stated preference for Greifswald-Lubmin is part of a very complicated dance involving the federal and regional governments, Russia and the Nord Stream pipeline consortium, Shell and the utility companies. At stake are not just the economic prospects for BTL and the region but also, I suspect, the storage of Germany's future nuclear waste.

Note also that yields in BTL processes such as Choren's go up drastically if sufficient additional hydrogen is available, sharply reducing the need for the expensive long-distance transport of dry biomass like wood and straw. North-East Germany produces quite a bit of that, btw.

The Nord Stream pipeline's terminal will indeed also be located in Greifswald. A nearby BTL plant would therefore permit the gas companies - incl. Shell - to co-locate a steam reforming plant and enter the automotive fuels market without the complications of a new CNG or CH2G/LH2G distribution infrastructure and vehicle fleet (while hedging their bets). The combined waste heat from the reformer and the BTL plant could be used to produce electricity - or to turn wet biomass like regular algae into yet more BTL feedstock.

An offshore windmill park would be another way to power hydrogen generation to support BTL production, but significantly more expensive. And if relations with Russia should unexpectedly sour, expect Germany's nuclear lobby to call openly for the construction of new, western-designed reactors at sites such as - drum-roll please - Greifswald-Lubmin.


Just so we're clear here.
$660,000,000/30 years (assuming that's how long it lasts)
$73,333/per day (300 day year)
$16.29/per barrel (4500 barrels/day)
$.38/gallon (42 gallons/barrel)
This is just the cost of the building/equipment of course.

Rafael Seidl

Chappy -

I'm not sure what your point is here. Diesel retails for EUR 1.10 a liter in Germany, well over $5/US gallon, of which about 60% is tax.

Your calc is not quite right, though, because you need to discount future revenue to its net present value at the time of construction. So depreciation will bite harder than you estimate. Still within reason, though.

The really expensive bit is operations, because of the the feedstock logistics, process yield etc. Right now, BTL costs 2-3 times as much per liter to produce as petrodiesel does. That's the official reason why Shell and Choren are looking for a long-term tax break.


You forgot interest, Chappy.  It amounts to quite a bit over 30 years.


Oh, I'm by no means trying to offer a highly detailed estimate. I was just offering a less wildly inaccurate estimate of building costs. I was inspired by a few previous posts ;). I suppose my main point is that 660,000,000/30/300/4500/42 does not equal 50. As for total cost/liter. I think it's safe to assume it's more expensive. After all new supplies of garbage are more readily available than new supplies of oil.


My take-home lesson from this is that the compounded inefficiencies of BTL and the internal combustion engine make both of them ripe for replacement (by e.g. carbonization and direct-carbon fuel cells).  Unfortunately, if a nation has a large investment in BTL which will not be paid off for 30 years (esp. if the government has guaranteed loans for it), this replacement is going to be as politically difficult as it is energetically necessary.


I don't know what the differences might be in processing costs but in MIT's process, they claim they can make Ethanol from Municipal Solid Waste for $.05-.95/gallon. Go to and search for "Ethano from Trash" for the 2 page report.


I'll keep an open mind on carbon fuel cells and hydrogenation from renewables until there are large demonstration plants up and running. However nobody has mentioned offsite rendering (ie pyrolysis and torrefaction ) as solutions to the bulky biomass problem. Others will plug their favourites but as far as I am concerned there is no clear winner among the alternative liquid fuels; perhaps none of them are much good.


That torrefaction is an interesting concept, Aussie.  Got any good links for the chemical composition and other properties of the product?


Here's a well illustrated link on torrefaction

My feeling is that people don't want a slimy biogas digester in every suburb; whatever can't be done via electricity will be clean fuel that arrives in hidden pipes or shiny tankers. Some form of thermochemical biowaste processing has to take the lead.

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