VTT study concludes gasification-based pathways can deliver low-carbon fuels from biomass for about 1.90-2.65 US$/gallon
A study by researchers at Finland’s VTT has concluded that it is possible to produce sustainable low-carbon fuels from lignocellulosic biomass for as estimated gasoline-equivalent production cost of 0.5–0.7 €/liter (app. 1.90-2.65 US$/gallon US), with first-law process efficiency in the range of 49.6–66.7%—depending on the end-product and process conditions. Should the thermal energy produced as a by-product be exploited for district heat or industrial steam, the overall efficiency from biomass to salable energy products could reach 74–80%.
In their study, Ilkka Hannula & Esa Kurkela evaluated 20 individual biomass-to-liquids BTL plant designs based on their technical and economic performance. The investigation was focused on gasification-based processes that enable the conversion of biomass to methanol, dimethyl ether, Fischer-Tropsch liquids or synthetic gasoline at a large (300 MWth of biomass) scale.
|VTT’s test-rig for the Ultra-Clean Gas process. Click to enlarge.|
All the evaluated BTL plants incorporated the same front-end design based on a pressurized fluidized-bed steam/O2-blown gasification of biomass, followed by hot-filtration and catalytic reforming of hydrocarbons and tars. This Ultra-Clean Gas (UCG) process has been at the focus of VTT’s biomass gasification R&D since 2006. The UCG process was developed for the production of low-cost synthesis gas from biomass.
They calculated production cost estimates assuming nth plant economics and without public investment support, CO2 credits or tax assumptions. The costs ranged from 58–65 €/MWh for methanol; 58–66 €/MWh for DME; 64–75 €/MWh for Fischer-Tropsch liquids; and 68–78 €/MWh for synthetic gasoline.
Converted into gasoline-equivalent price per liter, the estimated production cost would be 0.5–0.7 €/liter. The price of renewable solutions would thus be on a level with the current pre-tax price of fossil transportation fuels, and cheaper than existing imported biofuels.
After long-term development work, the technical functionality of the production process was verified through extensive testing at VTT test rigs as well as industrial piloting in Finland and in the US. The technology is now ready for its first commercial-scale demonstration. However, the first wave of these ground-breaking production plants requires significant public venture capital investment, for which planning has consequently been initiated at both Finnish and EU level.
According to the research results, the best efficiency and lowest production costs were achieved in the production of biomethanol. The risks related to the commercialization of the synthesis technology were also estimated to be lower with the biomethanol production plant compared to the other options.
VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland is the largest multi-technology applied research organization in Northern Europe.
Ilkka Hannula & Esa Kurkela. (2013) Liquid transportation fuels via large-scale fluidised-bed gasification of lignocellulosic biomass. VTT Technology 91