The German magazine Spiegel let slip a bit of information Tuesday. From Al Fin’s site and post titled “The Future of BioEnergy I: Biomass to Liquid” I started a little due diligence, as Spiegel has been “had” a few times over the years. It came as no surprise to read that the Spiegel article’s Company of Interest, Choren, has had the attention of a U.S. government agency. The U.S. Department of Energy has in fact invited Choren to participate in a Title 17 loan guarantee program. Choren offers in a quote in the Spiegel article that the loan guarantee would amount to a 90% investment share to build their biomass to fuel facility in the U.S.

The background goes to what we have discussed here before, the competition of the biological processes vs. the chemical processes to bring biomass to saleable fuels. The news then from Germany is the chemical industry has the lead, and the leader is a German firm, Choren.

Choren Gasification to Fuel Process

Choren is offering a multi step gasification to biofuel process. It starts with preparing the biomatter to small chip sized or smaller dry pieces that are heated to a comparatively low pyrolysis temperature of 400 to 500 degrees C that forms carbonization gas with a tar component and biocoke. Then the gas is forced to oxidize at 1,400 degrees C and the biocoke dust is blown back in too. The raw gas is cooled followed by a “dedusting” process that takes out the particulates of coke not reformed by the oxidation to gas. The next step is to clear any chlorides and sulfides. Then the gas stream flows to a Fischer-Tropsch reactor the forms the fuel. It works.

Backed by big multinationals like Royal Dutch Shell, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, and private individuals totaling US$285 million the hardware is a sure thing now. By year’s end the first Choren facility, a small but industrial scale plant will be on line. Using only 70,000 tons of wood waste per year the “biomass refinery” will output about 14,000 tons of biofuel. The biofuel of choice will be biodiesel. Following quickly, the first scale up to 200,000 annual tons of biofuel is due to go into production in 2012, less than 4 years out from now. It’s worthwhile to note that the facilities are sized to meet the local supplies of biomatter.

Tree Harvesting In Saxony

The experimental biomass farming is also on pace. Three years ago, Choren started its experimental farming using fast growing tree species that have already been harvested once. The local Ministry of Agriculture in the state of Brandenburg offers to provide the funds up to 45% to invest in the tree saplings, preparations and soil improvements needed to change out the crop production or bring unused land into production. The first experimental crop is yielding up to 20 tons of the dry biomatter per hectare (about 2.5 acres) that works out to be 5,000 liters of biodiesel (440 gallons /acre).

At more than a third more energy by volume than ethanol, biodiesel looks much better for land use than the corn to ethanol system. This information has been available to government officials since at least the announcement by the US DOE including Choren back in October 2007. It seems that the Choren process and likely others invited by the DOE have enabled insiders to finally acknowledge the potential that biomatter to fuel has to displace crude oil. A clue is there in the new energy bill that holds an “ethanol” base of about 12 billion gallons annually with another 24 billion expected to come from other sources.

Then this Wednesday the Bush administration’s press conference with the President on CO2 emissions let the other shoe drop. The most useful thing to say is that the President and the administration has had the foresight not to jump off any technological cliffs and came to join the popular perceptions only when very high quality prospects are at hand before committing itself to an economic revision of the U.S. and by extension, the world’s energy and fuel economy.

It’s looking like a long drawn out watershed event. It’s not over yet. There is much more technology on the horizon. The biological side hasn’t answered at scales of 200,000 tons of fuel from a biomass plant, yet. There are competitive costs to compare. There is a billion dollars a day from the U.S. alone, per day, at stake. It going to get very exciting, very interesting and perhaps a little glorious relief is on the way. Its no wonder earlier in the week the Saudi’s tried to make a point about biofuels being no answer, in support of the incredibly weird analysis that make biofuels out to be worse than crude oil.

Welcome to America, Choren!


11 Comments so far

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