Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Dutch Pioneering Production of Bio-Methanol from Bio-Coal

500 Million Euro Project Gets 199 Million Euro Grant

The Netherlands is leading the way in innovative use of refined, or torrefied, biomass, also known as bio-coal.

The fuel is a drop-in, grindable and pulverizable coal substitute that is carbon-neutral if made from sustainable supplies of biomass, including wood chips derived from responsible forestry management operations (e.g. utilization of thinnings and logging waste) and agricultural waste materials.

But the Dutch are proving that bio-coal is also a more efficient feedstock for production of renewable chemicalsAs reported here, a partnership called Wood Spirit has announced a 199 million euro grant for construction of a bio-coal-based bio-methanol refinery in Delfzijl.

The refinery process first gasifies the bio-coal in order to produce syngas, which is then made into methanol.

The project represents one of the largest-ever green projects in the Netherlands and one of the largest investments in the country's chemical industry in recent years.

First of Three Projects 

Wood Spirit is the first of three projects that was nominated by Dutch government for the NER300 program that  aims to stimulate investments in large, innovative,  renewable energy and CO2 capture and storage projects.

The program is funded from returns generated by the emissions trading system.

Methanol, also known as ethyl alcohol, wood alcohol, wood naphtha, or wood spirits, is the simplest form of all alcohols (CH3OH) and a common component in fuels. (The ancient Egyptians used wood spirits in embalming.) Methanol can be made from any carbon-based source; bio-methanol is made from biomass instead of from a fossil fuel, such as coal or natural gas.

Using bio-methanol instead of methanol as a catalyst in the production of bio-diesel, which, when blended with petroleum diesel can be burned in existing diesel engines without need for retrofitting or additional equipment, further reduces CO2 emissions.

Bio-methanol is also the most cost-efficient and environmental friendly liquid fuel for fuel cell vehicles. Methanol can be directly fed into a fuel cell without being reformed into hydrogen.

In other words, in addition to replacing or being blended (co-fired) with coal--a fossil fuel that is both the backbone of electricity generation worldwide and a leading source of climate change-causing carbon dioxide and hazardous pollutants--solid, green bio-coal can be gasified and then liquified to make renewable motor transport fuel.

ENDNOTE: Click here to read about a U.S. company's machine-based bio-coal production technology, which lends itself to installation in such existing wood processing facilities as sawmills and to use of the wood waste produced by these facilities. The technology basically repurposes a well known industrial workhorse--the calciner--into a coal-making machine, accomplishing in minutes what nature takes hundreds of millions of years to do.