Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) scientists, from Germany, have developed a novel technology of transforming plant materials into liquid fuel (biodiesel, methanol, hydrogen). Their method is able to bring the cost of one litre of such fuel down to 0.5 – 0.4 euros. And that’s cheap, according to European oil-based fuel prices.
Their technology is called “bioliq”, and it consists in three steps:
1. First, they heat the plant material in the absence of air to 500°C, process known as pyrolysis. The result is a thick oily liquid containing solid particles of coke, named “biosyncrude”.
2. The biosyncrude is vaporised by exposure to an oxygen gas stream, and then it’s heated to a temperature of about 1400°C. This process is also known as gasification, and it transforms the liquid biosyncrude into a mix of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, named “syngas”.
3. They remove any impurities from the syngas, and convert it by the help of a catalyst into a range of different chemicals and fuels, as mentioned above: methanol, hydrogen, and a synthetic version of diesel.
The researchers have even thought of the whole process of delivering the biomass to the future factory, and have come to the conclusion that if they would transport the raw biomass from the field to a single factory, they would block the access roads to the factory. Their alternative idea is to make an infrastructure of factories, and the most important issue is to make 50 regionally distributed pyrolysis plants to produce the biosyncrude from step #1, and then gather it via the railway to a central fuel producing refinery. Neat.
A pilot plant based on bioliq technology will be set up until 2012.