From wood to wheel and from black liquor to diesel

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From wood to wheel and from black liquor to diesel

December 05, 2010 - 14:00
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BRUSSELS, Dec. 6, 2010 (RISI) -If the sunny and warm inauguration weather is a sign from above, the world's first plant for the production of a renewable motor fuel, BioDME, will be a sunshine story. In early September, 130 invitees from around the world came to Piteå, Sweden, to take part in the inauguration. "A major step forward for the global biofuels market", said Kyriakos Maniatis of the European Commission.

The plant is built and operated by Chemrec, a Swedish-based technology company, next to the company's black liquor gasification development plant located at the Smurfit Kappa pulp and paper mill in Piteå. The BioDME project is a unique cooperative venture between Chemrec, Haldor Topsøe, Volvo, Preem, Total, Delphi and ETC. It is supported by the EU 7th Framework program and the Swedish Energy Agency. The Smurfit Kappa mill supplies the black liquor needed.

Lars Tegnér, Birgitta Marke, site manager, Hans Nelving, Chemrec and Jonas Rudberg, COO Chemrec look forward to the start-up of the BioDME plant

Important milestone for biofuels

"An important milestone was achieved today bringing BioDME closer to commercial deployment, not only for the EU but for the global biofuel market", said Kyriakos Maniatis, Energy Technologies & Research Co-ordination at DG Energy of the European Commission. "This is also a major step forward for the EU Strategic Energy Technology Plan since a unique bioenergy value chain closely linking the pulp and paper industry and bioenergy has been fully deployed for the first time."

"Since the groundbreaking ceremony for the BioDME plant a year ago we have made considerable progress, said Max Jönsson, Chemrec CEO. "This plant is a good example of using wood in a way so that it doesn't cannibalise on the value of sawn products or paper products. Our raw material is black liquor from our next door neighbour and the energy from the black liquor used for our fuel production is replaced by forestry biomass.

"In addition to the building of the BioDME plant and getting the Volvo Truck test fleet into operation, also the process towards building an industrial scale plant at the Domsjö specialty cellulose mill in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, has advanced. For the Domsjö project, main technology providers have now been selected and we are ready to start the front-end engineering and design phase", Jönsson added.

Three sections were assembled separately and then raised and attached to each other

Industry and research in harmony

"The significant investment made in this pilot facility will not only demonstrate the production of BioDME but will also provide an opportunity to further develop our already well-proven methanol and DME production processes", said Jens Perregaard, general manager, Technology Division at Haldor Topsøe. "This will open even more efficient routes to green fuels and chemicals".

"This is a fine example of a good cooperation between industry and research", Dirk Poot, managing director of Smurfit Kappa Piteå, stressed in his speech. "This project has a holistic view as all partners complement each other securing an optimised utilisation of the wood raw material. I want to congratulate Chemrec, Volvo and Haldor Topsøe on their pioneering work".

The BioDME plant was officially declared open by Per Olof Eriksson, the governor of the Norrbotten County. This was followed by more in-depth information from each project partner as well as a tour through the BioDME plant.

The plant is part of the BioDME project where the production of BioDME and its use in heavy trucks is demonstrated. It uses proven technology, adapted to the specific process and conditions in Piteå. The product will be used by 10 Volvo trucks in different parts of Sweden and the development period will run until end of year 2012.

In September 2005 Chemrec started up its black liquor gasification development plant in Piteå. The purpose was to further verify and optimise this process at commercial pressure of 30 bar during extended operation, which has now reached in excess of 12,000 hours in a large pilot scale. The development has been very successful, which is why it will be possible to deliver syngas to the pilot plant to be converted into four tonnes a day of BioDME.

Haldor Topsøe's and Volvo's work on DME synthesis and engine development trigged off the idea of integrating Chemrec's gasifier with a BioDME pilot to demonstrate the whole "wood to wheel" concept .

Ten Volvo trucks have been modified to DME fuel and will run 100,000 km/yr during the project

99.5% clean BioDME

The plant consists of three high sections. Each one was assembled by Kossab in Piteå, raised and attached to each other. Horizontal tubes were installed and then all the sophisticated process control equipment was installed. The test runs were started in October.

For Haldor Topsøe the plant is a development and demonstration plant. With a total of seven reactors the production will be done in steps. The reactors can be run both in parallel and serial sequences. As all chemical plants are different, adaptations will have to be made and Haldor Topsøe's staff will test different process variables.

The process will, after gas cleaning, convert 99% of the syngas to methanol before synthesis to BioDME takes place. The BioDME product will be very clean and consist of 99.5% BioDME. Each day's production will be analyzed and after approval pumped to a storage tank. From there it will be distributed to four Preem filling stations in Piteå, Stockholm, Gothenburg and Jönköping.

All visitors had a guided tour of the gasification and BioDME plants. Here, Mats Lindblom, Chemrec, explains the gasification process

Same engine but new fuel system

"Ten Volvo trucks will use DME as fuel during the two-year project period", says Patrik Klintbom, coordinator, alternative fuels, Volvo. "The trucks are run by several customers of ours, among them DHL, Posten and Bröderna Lindqvist Åkeri in Piteå. Each truck in the test fleet will be used under commercial conditions and run about 100,000 kilometres a year. The influence of the winter conditions will be an important part to study in the project.

"The trucks have been modified to be able to use BioDME as fuel. BioDME burns without creating soot, so there is no need for a particle filter or advanced after treatment systems. The fuel tank is different as BioDME is stored in liquid form under 5-6 bar pressure. The engine is a 440-hp Volvo diesel engine with the exception of the fuel system, which has a new fuel pump and a special DME injector. The noise from the engine is actually lower in comparison with the normal diesel engine".

Klintbom concludes, "From the beginning of the field test the trucks will be able to do 400 km on each re-fuelling but the goal is to install larger tanks to increase cruising distance to 800 km before re-fuelling."

"The inauguration was a big success", says Jonas Rudberg COO of Chemrec. "The black liquor gasification development work we have done
over the years here in Piteå has shown that our gasification process is ready to ramp up to industrial scale. Today, we are embarking on an exiting downstream development together with Haldor Topsøe for the world's first BioDME pilot plant. The next step is planned to be an integrated industrial scale biofuel plant at the biorefinery Domsjö Fabriker".

Fact box
The plant is situated next to the Smurfit Kappa mill in Piteå.
The pilot plant investment is about Euro15 million ($20.7 million).
Total cost of the BioDME project, including development investments in trucks, engines and filling stations is Euro 28 million ($38.6 million).
Plant BioDME production capacity is four tonnes per day.
12 employees run the plant on five-shift basis.
Chemrec is supplying syngas from its existing black liquor gasification plant, is owner of and will operate the plant for BioDME production.
Haldor Topsøe, a Danish world leader in process technology and catalysts, is providing the process technology including the DME synthesis.
Volvo is developing and producing engines and vehicles with engines adapted to the DME fuel, which will be used to conduct a field test under commercial conditions.
Preem, Sweden’s largest oil refining and marketing company, is building four filling stations for DME.
Total, the major French oil and gas company, is developing fuel and lubricant specifications for DME.
Delphi, a leading auto parts maker, is developing fuel injection systems for Volvo’s DME adapted engines.
ETC Energy Technology Centre, a research institute in Piteå, conducts process analysis.
In addition to the consortium members, Smurfit Kappa supplies the BioDME plant with black liquor and utilities.