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NextFuels introduces hydrothermal process to produce biofuels from wet, unprocessed waste; solution for palm plantation residue

Overview of the NextFuels’ GreenCrude process. Click to enlarge.

Biofuels company NextFuels introduced its hydrothermal process for economically producing transportation and industrial fuels from wet, unprocessed agricultural waste. The underlying technology—developed by Shell Oil over several years—will allow NextFuels and its partners to produce bio-based crude at commercial scale for $75 to $85 a barrel out of wet biomass that has not been mechanically or thermally dried.

The California-based company said that its process will provide palm plantation owners and others a way to transform the tons of residual plant matter generated by agricultural operations into a new, profitable second crop.

The company is collaborating on its commercial strategy with Enagra, a biofuel trading company, on the development of its technology. The two companies are owned by the same investors and managed by executives with extensive experience in biofuels. Over the past ten years, Enagra has conducted more than $1 billion in biofuel transactions and will achieve revenues of approximately $150 million in 2013.

Edible palm oil has surpassed soybean to become the largest source of cooking oil in the world, accounting for more than 50 million tons of oil annually. While plantation owners have managed to increase the productivity of their land by 15-times since the late 1980s, the growth of the industry has created a corresponding residue problem.

Approximately 4.4 to 6 metric tons of agricultural waste is generated for each metric ton of oil. There are more than 1,000 crude palm oil (CPO) mills in Southeast Asia and a single (60 tons per hour) mill can generate 135,000 tons of agricultural residue a year.

NextFuels uses a hydrothermal bio-liquefaction that efficiently transforms agricultural biomass to green energy. Biomass is placed into the plant mixed with water. The mixture is then heated to 330 °Celsius while pressure is increased to 220 bar.

When cooled, the hydrocarbons form a putty-like substance called GreenCrude. Roughly 25% of the GreenCrude can be burned as a solid fuel in industrial boilers. The remaining 75% can be converted into a liquid-fuel equivalent to petroleum that is compatible with existing pipelines and vehicles. The equipment required to convert GreenCrude into liquid fuels, in a process called hydrodeoxygenation, is already installed at most refineries and can accept GreenCrude with minor refinements.

Unlike many other biofuels processes, NextFuels does not need to dry biomass before processing. The process is uniquely and specifically designed to work with wet biomass. As a result, the energy balance achieved by NextFuels process is approximately 65 to 70%—i.e., 65 to 70% of the energy put into the system becomes useable energy. By contrast, processes like Fischer-Tropsch achieve energy balances of 40% or less, according to the company.

NextFuels is currently raising funds to rebuild a bio-liquefaction demonstration plant originally created by Shell in 2005. The system ran for more than 1,000 hours and is capable of producing 5 to 8 barrels of oil a day. Enagra and others will finance the cost of reassembling it and demonstrating production over the next 18 months.

Within two to three years, NextFuels anticipates it will start to build its first commercial scale modules capable of producing 250 barrels of oil equivalent a day. Four modules capable of producing 1,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day will be the typical size of a NextFuels plant. Commercial scale modules will initially cost approximately $20 million and decline in price over time.

NextFuels will partner with plantation owners and others on various projects. NextFuels estimates that transforming residue into fuel could raise the value of plantation real estate by 30% or more per hectare.

Dr. Ralph Overend, NextFuels Chief Scientist, has spent more than 30 years at major research organizations, including the National Renewables Energy Laboratory. Dr. Overend will work with Dr. Jaap Naber and Dr. Frans Goudriaan co-developers of the bio-liquefaction technology, starting the process as Shell research scientists in the 1970s.

There is no such thing as waste. The biofuel industry has been hampered by technological and economic challenges. We believe our system helps overcome many of these problems and we look forward to demonstrating it over the next few years.

—Dr. Overend



Kit P

At least they provide numbers. Using the energy is waste is always a good thing. If the project cost $20M I am a little skeptical that it can be profitable.


A sulfur-free biocrude would cost less to process than the heavies full of sulfur and metals.  It probably doesn't have fractions good only for coking, either.

If it can be sold for $30/bbl profit, 250 bbl/d yields $7500/day, $2.7 million/year.  That's not a bad return on $20 million.

Henry Gibson

A very similar process was tried in the US with similar results on waste newspaper. It is very clearly related to Wet-Air-Oxidation. ZIMPRO processes are still in operation at oil refineries. A very big piston, in dual opposed piston configuration, INNAS NOAX free piston engine hydraulic pump can be used to burn such liquids with very high efficiency and the high pressure fluid can drive a generator with a TURGO wheel but also operate a piston pump to pump treatment vessels to high pressure and pump the residues into them. With careful control the residues could be converted to carbolixic acids in this system and then fed to methanogens to produce methane fuel quickly. Carbolixic acids could also be upgraded to bio-alcohol-fuels. Crop residues are however valuable for maintaining soil fertility by feeding nitrogen fixing bacteria. At least the minerals are retained in the local area. The main source of sustainable energy is nuclear in the sun, but it also can be nuclear on the earth for as many billion years. One company is already making liquid fuels from captured CO2, water and electricity, and it should buy two CANDU reactors and put them onsite for full production of transportation fuel from the CO2 available. ..HG..

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