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BioDME Projects Begins, Chemrec to Build BioDME Plant

Principal units of Chemrec’s oxygen-blown, pressurized black liquor gasification development plant 1 (DP1) in Piteå, Sweden. Click to enlarge.

The European project BioDME has begun, with the first project meeting held today at Chemrec’s plant in Piteå, Sweden. The goal of BioDME is to demonstrate production of environmentally optimized synthetic biofuel from lignocellulosic biomass at industrial scale. The final output of this demonstration is dimethyl ether (DME) produced from black liquor via gasification and a final fuel synthesis step.

Project partners include Chemrec; Delphi Diesel Systems; Energy Technology Centre (ETC); Haldor Topsøe; PREEM Petroleum; Total; and the Volvo Group, which is the coordinator for the project.

Chemrec and Haldor Topsøe will construct the world’s first plant for producing DME from biomass, with output of 4-5 tons daily. Preem will implement the DME distribution and build four filling stations. Volvo will demonstrate DME technology for heavy vehicles in a field test of 14 trucks. ETC will evaluate performance characteristics in the pilot plant, Delphi delivers fuel injection equipment for the truck engines and Total will work on fuel and lube oil specifications.

The consortium agreement between the seven international partners was recently signed and the project approved by EU. The project is co-financed by the partners of the consortium, EU’s Seventh Framework Program (FP7) and the Swedish Energy Agency with a total estimated cost of €28 million (US$40 million).

The BioDME plant is based on Chemrec’s patented black liquor gasification technology (a pressurized, entrained-flow oxygen-blown gasification system) and Haldor Topsøe’s DME synthesis process. Topsøe has been involved in developing technology, catalyst, applications and the market for Dimethyl Ether (DME) since the early 1980s and supplies the catalyst to the Zagros DME plant in Iran.

DME has the potential to become a competitive renewable alternative to fossil fuels. DME from biomass is characterized by high energy efficiency and minimal climate impact. DME vehicles have very low exhaust emissions, due among other factors to soot-free combustion. DME is a non-toxic, environmentally benign compound already today used extensively as propellant gas in spray cans.



Henry Gibson

Perhaps soon we will be using DME for gas grills. Perhaps the whole natural gas infrastruture should be converted to delivering liquid DME to the home at much higher energy density than natural gas and more than a hundred times the density of hydrogen.

Cellulose is natural so it must be as good as hydrogen or even better because nature has not left much hydrogen around on earth.

Actualy, plug-in-hybrids are a quicker and more efficient use of almost any waste residues, but some liquid fuels are still needed for when the engine is used. ..HG..


Some comments as a person in the pulping Industry:

The black liquor from pulping not only contains organics such as lignin but also contains significant inorganics such as Na2C03 and Na2SO4. This complicates the process compared to normal gasification.

1. Gasification has been considered the 'holy grail' of the pulp and paper industry, as a way to increase generation efficiency. (about 20% electrical generating efficiency).

A Chemrec type high temperature gasifier was installed about 10 years ago at a pulp mill in NC. One problem they had was at the high temperatures the molten smelt (from the inorganics) corroded the interior alumina liner. as the liner corroded it expanded and deformed the outer steel shell causing the whole system to be rebuilt. Corrosion of refractory materials at these high temperatures by smelt is an important research item. Oak ridge labs is also currently working on metal alloys that can withstand the corrosion.

2. Today a pulp mills black liquor is sent to a recovery boiler, which generates high pressure steam. That steam is sent to a turbine (like a coal plant) to generate electricity. Excess medium and low pressure steam is used throughout the mill.

If syngas from the gasifier is being diverted to make DME, the electricity and steam currently generated may need to be supplemented by burning additional biomass in power boilers.


This is definitely going to be an interesting venture. Chemrec has had this technology for some time; this is basically an entrained-flow gasification. Because of it's consistency black liquor can easily be fed into a high-pressure entrained flow gasifier unlike lignocellulosic biomass. Also, by integrating their process into a pulp mill they benefit from the fact that the biomass feedstock i.e. black liquor is available on site; no need to collect biomass. This is a way to make renewable fuel from a waste stream that would otherwise be burned for power generation (it must be burned though to recover the inorganics).
But as the Pulpmillguy sad, additional electricity/steam would then have to be supplied from outside, and the plant would not be energy self-sufficient anymore.


This opens a whole new world of synthetic fuels. Whether from forests, farms or elsewhere, we can now make the fuels we need from renewable sources. Instead of refineries, we have processing plants. It may not be the answer to ALL our fuel needs, but even providing SOME of our fuels this way can help deal with the world energy situation.

P Schager

This is a very valuable project, and it's sad that the US is not also involved in this. DME is a top contender among fuels for the 21st century.

It basically stores and handles like propane, and can be used to fuel a little-modified diesel engine with the result that you get minuscule pollution. Just needs solvent-resistant seals (as with biodiesel) and a positive shut-off seal in the fuel injectors so gas won't seep out. Since it doesn't produce soot, you can go heavy on EGR and curtail NOX as well. A diesel that's pretty clean without the aftertreatment. You can also mix in a goodly proportion of a conventional diesel fuel, biodiesel or SVO and still get no soot. DME also can reform easily into hydrogen for a fuel cell.

Until the renewable version is developed, DME will be the preserve of natural gas providers. It will help them put their product on the global market in a business a lot like today's oil--that is, without the heavy investment and commitment to customer relationships that pipelined gas and LNG leave you with. But based on reserves, this business could easily get dominated by just two countries, Russia and Iran. Like OPEC but more extreme. It would be very bad for the health of the free world for these two countries to be tempted to get any more full of themselves than they already are. That's why BioDME has to be developed to blunt the potential for monopoly and market domination. The Europeans know what they are doing.

US politicians' fealty to the energy free market charade is getting even more dangerous.


@P Schager

Yes, the Europeans must consider every possible way of getting away from the dependence on Russian energy be it bioDME, BtL, biomethane etc. This complex-ridden country is capable on everything and will not stop at anything as the recent political developments have shown.

George Marchetti

The Chemrec process apparently begins by separating cellulose from hemicellulose/lignin using the traditional Kraft paper mill process. The black liquor (hemicellose/lignin) is then converted to either methanol or DME. In an integrated biofuel refinery, the cellulose fraction can be converted to methane and carbon dioxide in a 50%/50% ratio by using the Laube and Martin bacterial methanogenesis method. See, The cellulosic methane is separated from the carbon dioxide using a molecular sieve. The methane can then either be delivered to the natural gas pipeline or can be converted to more methanol or more DME.

The carbon dioxide "waste" (from both the Chemrec process and the Laube and Martin process) would be recycled by algae, grown at the refinery site in photobioreactors, to yield algal oil. The necessary inputs for algae growth in a photobioreactor are sunlight, wastewater and a sterile carbon dioxide stream (which is provided by the other processes). The algal oil can then be blended with 10-20% methanol to yield biodiesel.

An integrated biorefinery, which would combine the Chemrec, Laube and Martin, and GreenFuel (algal oil) processes, should have an excellent feedstock-to-fuel efficiency since virtually all of the biomass carbon (due, in part, to carbon dioxide recycling with algae) is used to produce fuel. Biomass transportation is also reduced because of the algae content, which is grown on-site. The available CO2-neutral fuels from an integrated biofuel refinery would be not only DME, but biodiesel, methanol (for M-50 or M-85), and natural gas as well.

Henry Gibson

Actually nuclear reactors should be built to produce DME or methanol which can be stored and later converted to DME or gasoline or just burned. ..HG..

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