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Lignin hyrdocracker SP ETC 25516Hyrdocracker reactor for pre-treated biomass. Illustration by courtesy of Magnus Marklund.New pilot facilities for the upgrading of lignin (which plant matter makes up roughly a third of the wood in trees) and of pyrolysis oil to a crude bio-based oil, or "bio-crude", is being installed at Bio4Energy member organisation SP Energy Technology Center (SP ETC) at Piteå, Sweden. The oil giant Preem has positioned itself as a forerunner in the search for renewable alternatives to fossil oil in its refined products, and are financing the new infrastructure at the SP ETC together with the Swedish Energy Agency and others.

"The technology is based on a principle in use in [fossil] oil refineries for the cracking and hydrogenation of fossil residual streams. We will be making a form of bio-crude which is adapted for going straight into a refinery, as a type of blend-in product which can be added to upgrade crude oil", said This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., CEO at the SP ETC.

The product of the pilot operations will be entirely bio-based, with the lignin content having been previously extracted from black liquor, which is a residual stream in pulping, and the pyrolysis oil made on the premises from forestry residue, such as tree tops and branches from northern Sweden forests. Marklund said that the new facilities, small enough to fit into a standard container, would be taken into operation in the last quarter of this year with a specific lignin and pyrolysis upgrading project in mind and which would end in the first quarter of 2017.

"In this first one the end product will be blend-in biofuels. In a longer term perspective the pilot will be used more generally [for the upgrading of] liquefied biomass", according to Marklund who is a PI on the research and development platform Bio4Energy Thermochemical Conversion Technologies.

He said the idea of installing the pilot and generally to investigate options for blending in biofuel with fossil-based petrol or diesel directly in the refinery process had come about in talks between the small Swedish firm SunCarbon, Preem and SP ETC's mother organisation SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden.

"The product we will make will be a well-adapted blend-in for today's oil refineries", Marklund said. 

"The wider purpose is to strengthen our test-bed environment and infrastructure which links in directly with Bio4Energy. This will enable us to provide an upgrading step for intermediates both in biochemical or thermochemical conversion" of biomass to fuels and chemicals.

When the first project was finalised, the new pilot facilities would be opened for use by biomass researchers and developers in the academy and in industry, Marklund added.

For those well familiar with technology development in the sector, the new facilities are a type slurry hydrocracker reactor designed to give an output of a few barrel of upgraded biofuel as per a campaign of a duration of approximately three days.

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