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Battelle evaluating pilot-scale mobile catalytic pyrolysis unit to convert biomass to bio-oil

Battelle researchers have developed a mobile catalytic pyrolysis unit that converts biomass materials such as wood chips or agricultural waste into bio-oil. As currently configured, the Battelle-funded unit converts one ton of pine chips, shavings and sawdust into as much as 130 gallons of wet bio-oil per day.

The bio-oil then can be upgraded by hydrotreatment into a gas/diesel blend or jet fuel. Conversion of the bio-oil to an advanced biofuel is a key element of Battelle’s (earlier post)—and many others’—research. Testing of the bio-based gasoline alternative produced by Battelle suggests that it can be blended with existing gasoline and can help fuel producers meet their renewable fuel requirements.

An alternative use of Battelle’s bio-oil is its conversion to a bio-polyol that can be substituted in chemical manufacturing for polyols derived from petroleum. Battelle’s bio-polyols have been validated by a third-party polyurethane producer as a viable alternative.

Battelle is evaluating this one-ton-per-day system at its West Jefferson, Ohio facility. The pilot-scale system is the culmination of Battelle’s second-stage development of the mobile pyrolysis technology.

In the first stage, which took place over the past four years, Battelle created a bench-scale machine that converted 50 pounds of woody waste per day, demonstrating the novel concept. The next step will be to work with a strategic partner/investor to produce a tenth-scale demonstration unit.

Currently, Battelle experts are using mainly pine waste in the transportable pyrolysis unit, although the machine can be modified to use other types of unwanted agricultural field residue known as stranded biomass, including corn stover, switch grass and Miscanthus.

Additionally, all of the waste materials produced by the unit’s process—liquid, solid and gas—have been taken into account. The liquid waste stream is water that can be safely recycled or disposed of, the solid char contains inorganics that can be used in fertilizers and the venting gas is monitored for safety.

Because of its small size, the pyrolysis unit is installed on the trailer of a flat-bed 18-wheel truck, making it mobile and thus transportable to the waste products. This feature makes it ideal to access the woody biomass that is often left stranded in agricultural regions, far away from industrial facilities. It's potentially a significant cost advantage over competing processes represented by large facilities that require shipment of the biomass from its home site.

We have something quite compelling. We’ve got it producing oil and have proven viable applications for it. As we increase scale, we will be able to further refine efficiencies such as thermal consumption and yield.

—Kathya Mahadevan, Business Line Manager

The Battelle bio-oil created by the mobile pyrolysis unit is similar to naturally occurring fossil oils harvested from underground. The hydrotreated, upgraded fuel from machine meets the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.



They slipped a decimal point, it is 130 gallons per ton.


"They slipped a decimal point, it is 130 gallons per ton."

I was wondering how they got 4+ tons of oil out of 1 ton of waste. That would be a good trick.


How much energy (beside waste feedstock) is required per gallon of oil produced?

What would be the NET production cost per gallon?

Bob Wallace

This should also produce biochar. Possible we could see units like these working in plantation forest like the pulp forests of the SE. Moving slowly through a forest processing trees and letting new ones grow up behind.

Trees that regenerate from stumps would be ideal. The root system is left in place so that regrowth is much faster than first growth. It wouldn't be necessary to move the unit too far at one time. Work a reasonable area ahead and to each side before moving forward. Plow the biochar in and use a shuttle transport vehicle to move the bio-oil.

It's likely the best re-sequestration process we have at the moment.


The char and the light gases are usually burned to heat the medium which is used in the pyrolysis phase.

Raw bio-oil is both highly acidic and immiscible with petroleum, but perhaps it's possible to gasify it and use it as a co-fuel for the trucks moving the bio-oil product and the gasifier itself.  Making the processing and transport substantially independent of petroleum fuels would be a big advance.

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