Bio-oil Research Moves from Standard to the International Top · 18. September 2012

A grant in millions from the Obel Family Foundation puts Aalborg University bio-oil research in the international top class and research results may help the transport sector reduce its CO2 emissions, ensuring the sector a greener profile.

Reduced CO2 emissions! Such is the demand to the transport sector, and the answer to the challenge may consist of three letters: HTL, which stands for Hydro Thermal Liquefaction. HTL is a method that can transform byproducts from agriculture and forestry (such as liquid manure or straw) into bio-oil through a process where the byproducts are exposed to temperatures between 250 and 450 degrees and a pressure of 100-350 bar. The technology is known but thus far tested only in small plants that have provided far from optimal conditions for learning more about the process and how to get the most oil out of the effort.

The new bio-oil facility will be able to make bio oil in much larger quantities than the current facility making research conditions considerably better- But with the grant of 3.5 million DKK (approximately 470,000 Euro) from the Obel Family Foundation and similar funding from Aalborg University’s Faculty of Engineering and Science, we have the opportunity to establish a bio-oil facility of the highest international standard. The facility will provide us with valuable knowledge on how best to convert biomaterial to bio-oil. The conversion is close to CO2 neutral, and since the oil can be upgraded and used in the transport sector, it could reduce CO2 emissions significantly and give the sector a greener profile. The potential is at least on the level of e.g. bioethanol and conventional biodiesel, perhaps even greater, says Professor Lasse Rosendahl from Aalborg University's Department of Energy Technology. In parallel with this, the EUDP (Energy Technology Development and Demonstration Program) has funded a pilot project on demonstration and scaling of HTL technology where the new bio-oil facility will be used for testing. The development company Steeper Energy has received a good 6 million DKK to implement the EUDP project.

- It’s a very promising technology, and if the technology lives up to expectations a large-scale demonstration plant and a market breakthrough appear possible in the relatively short term. The EUDP project should clarify this. The project is an exemplary collaboration between universities and private development companies, says Nicolai Zarganis, head of the secretariat of the EUDP program.

And in the somewhat longer term, the new initiative can have great significance for the Danish transport sector.

- In contrast to the production of bioethanol or biodiesel, where only a portion of the biomass is converted, HTL gives, beyond compare, the largest yield per input since the entire biomass is converted. HTL is very flexible in terms of the biomass used to make bio-oil. Particularly interesting is the fact that HTL can also use low-value biomass in the form of wet waste streams, such as liquid manure or waste water sludge, and this can help to keep the price of the final product down and thus make it more competitive, says Lasse Rosendahl.

The facility resembles a full-scale plant, and the new facility offers fantastic opportunities, making it central to Aalborg University's efforts in this field of research.

- So far we have only been able to make fairly small quantities of oil at a time, and it has meant a disproportionately large amount of time to heat the mass and later cool it down, making the actual processing conditions somewhat diffuse. With the new facility, we can continuously deliver biomass to the facility without stopping the system, ensuring constant and well-defined process conditions to convert biomass to oil. This provides significantly better conditions for parametric studies of the process and which biomaterials are best for making bio-oil under a given set of process conditions. And now we can produce such large quantities that we can also work with and test the final bio-fuels, which we can do in the engines and turbines we have purchased for just that purpose, says Lasse Rosendahl.

The facility is expected to be installed at the beginning of 2013. Researchers from Aarhus University’s Department of Chemistry are also part of the collaboration, which also has participation from the business community. In addition to being the facility supplier, Steeper Energy rents the facility part of the time to conduct studies and document the commercial potential.

- We are pleased that we have succeeded in creating facilities and a research environment of an internationally high standard in the form of a private-public cooperation. We see great potential in the collaboration that constitutes an essential element of our further process development, documentation and commercialization of our HydrofactionTM technology, says Steen Brummerstedt Iversen, Chief Technical Officer at Steeper Energy ApS.

Further information/contact:

Professor Lasse Rosendahl, +45 21 45 11 14,


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