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BTG and GoodFuels explore options for joint biorefinery demo investment

In the Netherlands, biomass conversion technology developer Biomass Technology Group (BTG), and compatriot sustainable biofuels provider GoodFuels are exploring the possibility of setting up a biorefinery demonstration plant to convert biomass-derived crude pyrolysis oil into an advanced marine biofuel.

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In the Netherlands, Biomass Technology Group (BTG), and compatriot sustainable biofuels provider GoodFuels are exploring the possibility of setting up a demonstration biorefinery plant to convert crude biomass-derived pyrolysis oil into an advanced marine biofuel (photo courtesy Carolien Abbink).

According to a joint statement, BTG will set up a new high-tech technology company for converting crude pyrolysis oil into diesel fuel suitable for the shipping sector. It will be the first refinery in the world for an advanced marine biofuel based on pyrolysis oil.

The new facility will be operated by a new company named BTG-neXt. In the first phase, BTG-neXt will focus on building a pilot refinery for converting pyrolysis oil into 100 percent sustainable biodiesel for ships in order to demonstrate that continuous production is feasible.

The pyrolysis oil is made from biomass-based residues such as sawdust and roadside grass cuttings and is a sustainable alternative for replacing fossil fuels.

BTG has been working on developing new technology since 2000. The award-winning rapid pyrolysis technology for producing oil from plant-based residual waste streams such as wood residues and roadside grass was developed 30 years ago at the University of Twente.

Scaling up

BTG was established in 1987 as an independent privately-owned company specialising in the conversion of biomass into energy and in 1993, BTG acquired the rights from the University of Twente to further develop and scale up the new pyrolysis technology.

We have been developing various building blocks over the past 15 years, which are part of several parallel projects still underway. In the near future, we will be integrating these building blocks, in order to realise the new plant, said René Venendaal, CEO of BTG.

The new demonstration facility will have a planned production capacity of 1 000 tonnes of advanced marine fuel per year, which although modest is, Venendaal says, sufficient to demonstrate that the technology works and will serve as a basis for further scaling up operations. The pilot plant will require a six-figure investment.

We are now working on a more precise estimate of that figure. The goal is to use the pre-commercial facility as a reference for rolling out commercial refineries with a capacity of possibly hundreds of thousands of tonnes per year of advanced marine biofuel for ships, Venendaal said.

Venendaal has good hope that the first commercial plants will also be profitable on a limited scale.

We are looking at investments in the order of EUR 200 million per processing plant, but we are already seeing that many potential clients, due to market demand, would prefer building even larger facilities, Venendaal revealed.

Partnership with GoodFuels

BTG previously adopted a similar strategy for the production of pyrolysis oil in 2008, when it established a new company called BTG-BTL. Under the responsibility of BTG-BTL, the Empyro production facility in Hengelo, the Netherlands, was built, which demonstrated that it was not only technically feasible to produce oil from sawdust but that it was also a commercially viable proposition.

The Empyro woody biomass pyrolysis plant in Hengelo, the Netherlands.
The Empyro woody biomass pyrolysis plant in Hengelo, the Netherlands. The Empyro woody biomass pyrolysis plant in Hengelo, the Netherlands.

Empyro was acquired at the beginning of 2019 by the municipality-owned waste processing company Twence. Also in 2019, BTG-BTL received its first orders for almost identical copies of the Empyro plant for delivery to companies in Finland and Sweden, where sawmill waste such as sawdust will be used for producing pyrolysis oil.

The plans drafted by BTG for the next decade have been welcomed with enthusiasm by the market. GoodFuels, a pioneer and market leader in sustainable biofuels for shipping, sees sufficient potential in BTG’s plans to explore the possibility of collective investment in the demonstration plant.

Over the last five years, GoodFuels has prepared the road for the use of biofuels in the shipping sector. Together with partners such as Boskalis Loodswezen, Port of Rotterdam, Norden, Jan de Nul and its portfolio of GoodShipping A-Brand clients we have shown that these fuels will play an essential role in making shipping more sustainable. The next step is to scale up the processes without making any concessions in terms of the sustainability of the feedstocks used. BTG’s project meets all the crucial success criteria, and we are very proud to work together with BTG to introduce this highly significant innovative technology in the Netherlands, said Dirk Kronemeijer, CEO of GoodFuels.

Port of Rotterdam preferred

GoodFuels intends to market the pilot volumes produced in order to be able to also optimise the commercial business case. According to Venendaal, the intended location for the new pilot plant is “as close to home as possible”.

“As was the case with BTG-BTL and Empyro, we need to have short lines of communication and be able to provide the services needed as efficiently as possible. At present, most ships, in particular, ocean-going vessels, use low-quality fuel oil that is almost tar-like in nature. The potential for growth in terms of sustainability is therefore extremely high for this sector,” remarked René Venendaal, CEO, BTG (photo courtesy Carolien Abbink).

The low-sulphur diesel fuel for the shipping sector made from pyrolysis oil also complies with the stringent IMO2020 standards that will be introduced in 2020 for sulphur emissions in the shipping industry.

The ports of Rotterdam and Eemshaven are the locations being considered for the first commercial processing plant.

Rotterdam would be our preferred location as most of our shipping clients are active here. In addition, Rotterdam offers a great many opportunities for further integration due to the existing infrastructure already in place there, ended Dirk Kronemeijer.

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