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Uhde Gasification Selected for Commercial Biomass-to-Methanol Plant in Sweden

VärmlandsMetanol AB has selected Uhde, a ThyssenKrupp company, as technology supplier and engineering partner for a biomass-to-methanol plant in Hagfors, Sweden, with an annual production of 100,000 tonnes of fuel-grade methanol from forest-residue biomass. Investment for the plant will be about SEK 3 billion (US$416 million).

The VärmlandsMetanol plant will be the first full-scale commercial biomass-to-methanol plant. The plant will gasify about 1,000 tonnes of wood biomass per day and convert the resulting syngas into some 375,000 liters (99,000 gallons US) of methanol per day via a catalytic process, according to Björn O. Gillberg, founder of VärmlandsMetanol. In addition to the methanol, the plant can deliver district-heating water with a thermal duty of 15 MW.

VärmlandsMetanol’s goal is to have the Hagfors plant operational at the end of 2013. Subsequently, it intends to build either by itself or in collaboration with other stakeholders, several other forest methanol and / or forest-diesel plants.

Methanol can be blended with gasoline at low- to mid-levels (up to 25%) for use in engines with no modification or used in flex-fuel vehicles for high blends. It can be converted into gasoline, or used as a liquid fuel option for fuel cells.

Biomass to Methanol. Modern interest substituting biomass for coal or natural gas as a gasification or reforming (respectively) feedstock to provide syngas for catalytic conversion to methanol reaches back several decades. As one example, the Hynol Process Project in the US focused on converting biomass and hydrogen into syngas used to produce liquid methanol at high temperatures and high pressures.

In a 2005 paper published in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels, Yin et al. note that:

The composition of syngas derived from biomass is different from that derived from natural gas and coal. The latter consists mainly of H2 and CO, with a small amount of CO2, whereas bio-syngas consists much more of CO2 but much less of H2, resulting in a low H/C ratio and a high CO2/CO ratio. Therefore, the composition of bio-syngas is not favorable for methanol synthesis under the conventional method.

The composition of bio-syngas is dependent on the gasification method used. Theoretically, a syngas with a H2/CO ratio of 2.0, which is appropriate for methanol synthesis, can be obtained adiabatically by adjusting certain gasification parameters. However, the differences between the actual data and theoretical results are substantial. Moreover, economical aspects must be considered for practical processes. In most cases, bio-syngas is a CO2-rich and H2-deficient feed gas, which can be tailored in the downstream process by water-gas shift reaction, by methane reforming, by CO2 removal, or by supplying H2 to readjust its composition before entering into the synthesis loop. However, the capital cost for syngas generation made in this way will be very high. Therefore, simplification in the syngas production would improve the overall process economics significantly.

Uhde. Uhde first designed and constructed a methanol plant in 1931, employing a high-pressure methanol synthesis process with the syngas feed being generated from coal.

Uhde later constructed the first low-pressure (LP) methanol plant using a copper-based catalyst, also with coal as feedstock. The first modern methanol plant, using steam reforming of natural gas and a low-pressure synthesis process (50 bar) was designed and supervised by Uhde in Romania in 1972/1974. Uhde partners with Johnson Matthey Catalysts (JMC), which has developed a new high-activity methanol synthesis catalyst (KATALCO 51-8).

In March, Uhde’s PRENFLO gasification process with direct quench (PDQ) was selected to be part of joint research and development project BioTfueL in France. (Earlier post.)

The PRENFLO process was selected on the basis of its flexibility in processing a wide variety of biomasses and other resources. It allows high energy efficiency and enables very pure synthesis gas to be produced. A torrefaction pre-treatment plant, which facilitates the application of biomass in the PRENFLO-PDQ entrained-flow gasifier, and ensures lowest possible energy consumption, is installed to allow the use of a wide range of biomasses.


  • Yanan Zhang, Jun Xiao and Laihong Shen (2009) Simulation of Methanol Production from Biomass Gasification in Interconnected Fluidized Beds. Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., 48 (11), pp 5351–5359 doi: 10.1021/ie801983z

  • Xiuli Yin, Dennis Y. C. Leung, Jie Chang, Junfeng Wang, Yan Fu, and Chuangzhi Wu (2005) Characteristics of the Synthesis of Methanol Using Biomass-Derived Syngas. Energy Fuels, 19 (1), pp 305–310 doi: 10.1021/ef0498622

  • Robert H. Borgward (1998) Methanol Production from Biomass and Natural Gas as Transportation Fuel. Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., 37 (9), pp 3760–3767 doi: 10.1021/ie980112n

  • Material and Energy Balances for Methanol from Biomass Using Biomass Gasifiers (NREL, 1992)



Many similar plants could be installed in Canada and USA where great quantities of forest residues exist.


"thermal duty of 15 MW"

They are using the waste heat as well. This is the kind of plant I envision across the farmlands of the U.S. making 100 million gallons of methanol for all the M85 pumps and FFVs.


I wonder if torrefaction changes the H/C ratio in a favorable direction due to the higher heating value. There's also less water (hydrogen).


Unfortunately the US spends its resources on weapons and wars instead of alternate fuel development.


That is true, but that can change, it just takes the will to do it.


There is only one small issue remaining in this project... The funding is still missing. This seems to be the main problem in most projects. I guess they are working hard on this issue. Maybe the USA could spend some of their weapon resources on this project in Sweden as a joint venture.


Conservative politics favors limited government with limited scope in the U.S. Any one that is not for spending more money on the military is accused of being "soft on defense". Any one wanting to reduce the military budget in favor of research and development of renewable resources is branded a "socialist".


Well, my comment about US funding was a kind of a joke... However, I think you could consider yourself as "true" socialists in the USA today (the Russkis are not that any more...). After all, your banks, car industry, etc. is more or less owned by the Government. Many people wanted the same development in Sweden during the economic crisis but our right-wing Government resisted in every single case. Instead, they are now selling companies previously under control by the Government.

My real point about innovative technology like this is that public funding is not sufficient today. You have to demonstrate such technology at large scale - it does not work at small scale - and the great risk involved necessitates some public funding. Unfortunately, the Swedish Government (and the EU) are more interested in many small investments than a few large. Perhaps this is true regarding the risk involved but this might prevent the development of such technologies. Eventually, small-scale niche fuels, such as e.g. biogas from waste, manure etc., will never capture any large proportion of the fuel market, so the rationale for funding such efforts is questionable. Gasification of cellulosic feedstock and synthesis to a liquid fuel is the only way to go if you want some reasonable market penetration (which should be the scope). Besides that, one might argue whether methanol is the right fuel but the crucial technology is the syngas production and that is more or less identical regardless of the end product chosen. Therefore, I wish the project good luck in the process of securing the funding. They will certainly need that...

Henry Gibson

Methanol should become the standard liquid fuel of the world. Now just find a quick efficient way to make it at home from natural gas methane. ..HG..

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Thank you.Very nice post.

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