The Carbon Trust has created a consortium of British businesses led by Axion Energy to pioneer the development of a world-class, commercially viable process to turn municipal and wood waste into transport biofuel. The consortium will work on the enhancement of a process called pyrolysis to process waste biomass to produce a greener and cheaper alternative to existing biofuels at mass scale, to blend with fossil fuels.
A key advantage of developing a process which will use existing organic waste, rather than plant crops is that it overcomes many of the issues associated with some current biofuels, and can lead to even greater carbon savings by avoiding methane emissions from landfill. Carbon Trust analysis shows that the carbon footprint of this new pyrolysis biofuel could potentially achieve a carbon saving of 95% when compared to fossil fuels. This is a significantly higher carbon saving than some existing biofuels1, which also do not currently factor in the impacts of land use change when calculating the carbon saving.
The consortium aims to produce its first biofuel from a pilot plant in 2014 and there is potential, using UK biomass alone to scale production to over 2 million tonnes per year. This will generate a saving of 7 million tonnes of carbon, which is the equivalent to the annual emissions of 3 million cars.
UK legislation, the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), already stipulates that forecourt petrol and diesel must include a 3.25% blend of biofuel and by 2020 an EU directive will see this figure rise to 10%. Pyrolysis not only potentially offers the lowest cost production route of any biofuel technology (between £0.30 and £0.48 per litre of diesel biofuel), but could also meet over half of the 2020 RTFO target.
Transport Minister Sadiq Khan said: “We are committed to ensuring that transport fuels are cleaner, greener and less carbon intensive.”
“Many biofuels such as those from waste, have the potential to provide significant carbon reductions. The challenge is identifying and developing those biofuels which deliver the most environmental benefits. This is exactly what we are doing by leading the way in conducting research into biofuel sustainability and production. Research like this, which we are funding with £3.8m over 2 yrs, will enable us to get the best possible carbon savings out of biofuels.”
Tom Delay, chief executive of the Carbon Trust, said: “Genuinely sustainable biofuels will be critical to help reduce the UK’s transport emissions. By developing a method which overcomes the issues associated with some existing biofuels the UK has a vital role to play. In just a few years pyrolysis could change the way in which we produce biofuels and by 2020 be a commercially viable option. Within a decade we could see a network of mini biofuel refineries sited near landfill sites and other waste sources across Britain. This unique consortium demonstrates the UK’s strength in a crucial low-carbon technology and could lead the world in developing the cheapest and greenest of biofuels.”
The Carbon Trust is investing £7 million over 3-4 years into the consortium using funding from the Department for Transport and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). The consortium, which comprises Axion Energy, Catal International Ltd, CARE Ltd and Aquafuels Research Ltd, include complementary technical capabilities spanning the complete pyrolysis-to-fuel supply chain. Waste can be cost-effectively pyrolysed at a relatively small scale. In the future the UK could have a network of mini pyrolysis ‘oil refineries’ at locations such as landfill sites.
Alongside the Axion consortium, Carbon Trust is also announcing a £500,000 research grant for the University of York to conduct earlier-stage R&D into a process to use microwaves to pyrolyse waste. This offers greater energy efficiencies and could also provide very high quality oil which could lead to pure biofuel being used in cars.
E4Tech Report (pdf-file), commissioned by the Carbon Trust 2009. Analysis shows wheat to bioethanol offers a 30-70% carbon saving and Brazilian sugarcane ethanol offers around 70% carbon saving when compared to fossil fuels.
Source: Carbon Trust, press release, 2010-03-15.