Pyrolysis Oil from Biomass Could Be Early Alternative to Fossil Oil in Transition to Society Fuelled by Renewables

MM Pyrolysis 16615Magnus Marklund and his team at the SP ETC will be able to continue the development of applications of biomass-based pyrolysis oil, thanks to new funding grants from the Swedish Energy Agency and Kempe Foundations. Photo by Maria Fäldt.Pyrolysis of biomass—thermochemical decomposition of wood or organic waste at elevated temperatures and with minimal presence of oxygen—could be an "interesting" option in a transition to replacing today's fossil oil with renewable alternatives, according to a Bio4Energy expert on the thermal conversion of biomass to fuels and chemicals. Thus far, however, lack of knowledge about the composition of the bio-oil obtained from pyrolysis of wood or woody waste has been a hindrance efficiently to design techniques for producing and using such bio-oil, to believe researchers in Bio4Energy at the SP Energy Technology Center (SP ETC) at Piteå, in Sweden.

After five years of research in Bio4Energy, and three new funding grants enabling the start of two research projects and the purchase of state-of-the-art instrumentation, that may be about to change.

Until recently, "perhaps 50 per cent of the contents of the oil made by way of pyrolysis could be mapped by ordinary gas chromatography and other methods", said This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., CEO at the SP ETC, having just received the announcement of two research grants worth more than eight million Swedish kronor from the Swedish Energy Agency, plus support for highly advanced analytical equipment called GCxGC MS from the Kempe Foundations. GC is short for gas chromatography, which in this case is two dimensional, but in this new instrument it has been coupled with a technique called mass spectrometry.

"With the new funding from the Energy Agency for the research projects and for a state-of-the-art analytic instrument from Kempe we are going to complement, strengthen and inventory what is being done on an international top level.

Read more: Pyrolysis Oil from Biomass Could Be Early Alternative to Fossil Oil in Transition to Society...

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Bio4Energy is upgrading its website and would like to ask all visitors please for a little patience. We are receiving the kind help of web developer Simon Birve of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences to tweak formats and modules in shape.

We started the upgrade 4 June 2015 and expect to need a week-to-ten days to have this "new" bio4energy.se fully functional.

Forest Chemistry: 'Political Support Measures Essential to Commercialisation of Green Chemicals'

Forest-Chem SP-ProcActors from the chemical and forestry industries in Sweden, as well as academia and research institutes, have worked together since 2012 to assess the feasibility of plastic makers' at Stenungssund switching part of their raw material base from petrochemical to woody feedstock. Their report shows it is possible but that political support measures would be needed to make the production of "green" chemicals cost efficient on a commercial scale. Photo by courtesy of SP Processum.In terms of technology, the chemical industry at Stenungssund, Sweden, could make the switch today to a renewable raw material as a partial base for its production, according to a recent report from a Swedish national Forest Chemistry project, using existing technology for making plastics from petrochemicals.

However, for the industry to achieve a level of profitability when using wood or woody waste as feedstock comparable to that of using chemicals refined from fossil oil, political support measures similar to those in place for certain types of bioenergy production would be needed, the report authors from SP Processum and Chalmers Technical University say.

"The project shows that it is possible to replace parts of the fossil raw material and to continue and to use existing technology, but [production] volumes and economics are more tricky bits. The conclusion is that 'green' chemicals would need to be supported by incentives similar to those in place for bioenergy production", said Bio4Energy scientist This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., professor at Umeå University, who led one of the Forest Chemistry research projects on the so-called Sugar Platform.

The research in Forest Chemistry focused on three tracks of the chemical-making operations: Production of butanol, olefins and methanol extracted from the sulphate process of pulping operations. An environmental impact assessment was performed by Bio4Energy researchers at the SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden in the form of a life-cycle assessment attempting to gauge the environmental and climatic impact of switching 25 per cent of the raw material base for the totality of the production at the industrial cluster to woody feedstock, as compared with a continued used of petrochemical feedstock.

"We have examined the preconditions both for processes in which cellulose-based ethanol and methanol made by gasification of raw materials from the forest are produced as starting materials from the production of chemicals and plastics. The project results show that it is feasible to use existing techniques, even if additional technological progress is welcome as it would make the processes more efficient.

"Looking at the technical side of things is very important since, in addition to bulk products, one could make high value-added products. There is good reason to continue the work, for instance on lignin products", according to Jönsson.

Bio4Energy’s LCA researchers on the project stressed the importance of assessing the sustainability of products coming out of the cluster along their collective value chain.

Read more: Forest Chemistry: 'Political Support Measures Essential to Commercialisation of Green Chemicals'

Bio4Energy Researchers: Pulping Side Stream May Be Harnessed for High Value-added Chemicals

Fir-conesperfume ASBio4Energy researchers have reviewed different ways of upgrading tall oil residue from pulping operations to value-added chemicals. The researchers belive there is money to be made by industry from harnessing some of the options found. Photo by Bio4Energy.Researchers in Bio4Energy have published a review article designed to guide biorefinery industry looking to make value-added products from side streams of pulp and paper production such as crude tall oil from trees. This is an area that is attracting the attention of several industrial operators in the vanguard of trying to make renewable chemicals with properties similar to chemicals refined from fossil oil.

Just as the Nordic Paper Journal noted in a recent article, there is likely to be big money to make from side streams of the pulping process. The Bio4Energy researchers point to several routes by which substantially value-added fragrances, pharmaceuticals, bio-based plastics, renewable diesel, specialty chemicals or even jet fuel may be made.

"Industry has realised it can increase the profitability of its operations by making use of the terpene fractions…. Our article gives them a tool for identifying what routes to go down", said This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., professor at Umeå University in Sweden and an expert on catalysis and separation of wood products in Bio4Energy.

The Bio4Energy researchers' 29-page review article gives a complete overview of the latest research on various compounds extracted from turpentine—produced worldwide in approximately 35,000 tonnes each year as a side stream in chemical or mechanical pulping of wood—and treated by heterogeneous catalysis. The article appeared in the April 2015 issue of the Chemical Reviews which receives even more citations by other researchers than the prestigious scientific journals Nature or Science.

Read more: Bio4Energy Researchers: Pulping Side Stream May Be Harnessed for High Value-added Chemicals

Good Marks to Bio4Energy for Leadership, R&D, Outreach, in Evaluation by Swedish Authorities

Ibrahim-Baylan-visit-141125Bio4Energy is being evaluated for its first five years a biorefinery research environment. The Swedish government is expected to decide whether to grant Bio4Energy a second five-year operational period, 2016-2021. Sweden's energy minister, Ibrahim Baylan (centre), came to visit Bio4Energy at Umeå in November 2014. Photo by Mattias Petterson.Bio4Energy has received good marks for leadership, research and development and outreach, in an evaluation by Swedish authorities aided by an international panel of experts. The evaluation essentially targets the scientific quality and "strategic" leadership of the research environment in its first five years in operation, 2010-2015. It feeds in to an assessment of Bio4Energy by its main sponsor, the Swedish government, which is expected to decide by the end of the year whether to grant funding for second operational period for the research environment in 2016-2021.

In total, 43 government-funded "strategic" research environments (SREs) were evaluated by five government bodies and an encompassing evaluation report was forwarded to the Swedish government 30 April. It is understood that Bio4Energy was in the top third of research environments which "currently meet the objective of achieving the highest international standard", according to the report entitled Evaluation of the Strategic Research Area Initiative 2010-2014.

"We have received a very good evaluation. We are in full swing with our activities and now we will focus on becoming even better", said Umeå University deputy vice-chancellor This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., who also chairs the Bio4Energy Board. This latter takes decisions on research and development strategy on behalf of the research environment and on financial matters.

A look at the fine print of the evaluation report reveals that the research output of Bio4Energy is "[in] the frontline", which was the highest possible level of rating given by the panel of experts, the two other two levels being "reaching international standards" and "not convincing so far".

Read more: Good Marks to Bio4Energy for Leadership, R&D, Outreach, in Evaluation by Swedish Authorities

Health & Environmental Effects of Biomass Burning Focus of Congress in Sweden

PIC2015 logoAn important aspect of providing methods and tools for conducting efficient and sustainable biorefinery—such as Bio4Energy does—is to keep the environmental and health impacts of biomass-based technologies in check.

One such example is emissions from biomass combustion. To give a snapshot of the latest in that line of research, scientists at Umeå University have taken on the organisation of the recurrent International Congress on Combustion By-products and their Health Effects, to be held at Umeå 14-17 June 2015.

The scope of the congress traditionally includes both direct biomass burning and combustion as a means to turn biomass into biofuel for automotive transport, and highlights this year include prevention of the formation and emission of halogenated persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and secondary emissons of intermediate chemicals.

Conference chair This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. said that in a societal transition from using fossil oil as a base for fuels and materials to biomass from wood and other sources, it was important to make sure new environmental problems were not created by the new biofuel combustion processes being invented.

"Here we are talking about by-products of combustion and environmental effects and health effects of these by-products. They can be different types of compounds and structures. So there is quite some research on soot and particles, some on ash and metals and organic environmental pollutants. So this is quite a broad conference [content wise] in that it discusses a range of aspects of combustion and [its] environmental and health effects".

Read more: Health & Environmental Effects of Biomass Burning Focus of Congress in Sweden

Bio4Energy Students Analyse Pilot Facilities in Sharpened Biorefinery Pilot Research Course

Bio4Energy Graduate School: Final Seminar Biorefinery Pilot Research 2015 from Bio4Energy on Vimeo.

The contents of the key generic course in the Bio4Energy Graduate School, Biorefinery Pilot Research (BPR), have been made considerably sharper in terms of training students in considering each biorefinery pilot or demonstration facility in the Bio4Energy cluster as an innovation system.

Or so it would seem as the second edition of BPR concluded with a final seminar where PhD student researchers in Bio4Energy presented encompassing reports describing and analysing the activities of seven entities which host pilot and demonstration units run by Bio4Energy researchers or, in one case, by its strategic partners.

"We have improved the course compared with the previous year [and] given it a focus on innovation systems. The students have had to work harder and done better. There has been the possibility to learn more", said This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., BPR course coordinator and an associate professor at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences at Umeå, Sweden.

Biorefinery Pilot Research is designed to introduce students at the PhD level to the hands-on work of developing biorefinery technologies on site at pilot and demonstration facilities which are part of the Bio4Energy research environment. Bio4Energy deals with biochemical and thermochemical conversion of biomass to fuels, chemicals and new materials from woody raw materials and organic waste. It also designs various options for the pre-treatment or pre-processing of biomass by means for instance of catalysis, separation, fractionation or torrefaction.

This introduction mainly takes place on site so that students have the possibility to gain an appreciation of the actual handling of pilot equipment and to have contacts with the engineers and other technicians running the facilities and, by extension, contacts in industry and academia, and at research institutes.

Read more: Bio4Energy Students Analyse Pilot Facilities in Sharpened Biorefinery Pilot Research Course

This Spring in Bio4Energy

J-P-Mikkola-Lab-UmUCatalysis and separation research goes on at the Umeå University laboratories of Jyri-Pekka Mikkola of Bio4Energy. Here is a snapshot from today's work by professor Mikkola and one of three freshly arrived ERASMUS students from Italy. Photo by Bio4Energy.Bio4Energy is lucky to have fantastic researchers. Having barely concluded the Umeå Renewable Energy Meeting—which international conference this year had a focus on biorefinery processes—and received the thumbs up from several speakers and others among its 182 participants, they are back in their laboratories and lecture halls inventing new fuels, chemicals and materials from bio-based feedstock, or teaching Bio4Energy's students how to do the same.

Then, in June they will be hosting the 14th International Congress on Combustion by-products and Their Health Effects, PIC 2015, also at Umeå, Sweden, 14-17 June. Shortly after a special issue of the proceedings of the Impacts of Fuel Quality on Power Production conference in Utah, U.S.A., in October 2014, will be published in which scientists on the Bio4Energy Thermochemical Platform will have no less than three articles.

Last but not least, Bio4Energy is looking forward to acknowledging the work of its PhD students who will be wrapping up encompassing reports on the innovation systems attached to the biorefinery pilot and demonstration facilities which are part of the Bio4Energy research environment. The students in question are enrolled in the Bio4Energy Graduate School and about to finish the very hands-on study course Biorefinery Pilot Research.

With this Bio4Energy would like to wish its researchers, members of the industrial network and stakeholders a Happy Easter! Stay in touch.

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