23 September 2015

DfT awards £25m to develop advanced biofuels

UK Department for Transport investing in new premises and technology

Three companies have been awarded a share of a £25 million fund to develop low emission biofuels and boost local industry, Transport Minister Andrew Jones announced on 7 September.

Feedstocks Biofuels Biorefining

The Government announced this week that three companies have been awarded a share of its £25 million Advanced Biofuels Demonstration competition, which was launched in December 2014 with the aim of developing fuels from waste products to power cars and lorries.

According to the Department for Transport (DfT), the £25 million funding will enable the three businesses to invest in new premises and technology to help generate more than 5,000 new jobs by 2030, open-up international markets and promote the renewable energy sector.

The winning schemes are:

  • Celtic Renewables, based in Edinburgh, has been awarded £11 million to fund a new plant to make biofuels from Scotch whisky by-products, with plans to open a further 3 commercial plants across Scotland in the future
  • Advanced Plasma Power, in Swindon, will receive £11 million to help develop biofuels from ordinary household waste
  • Nova Pangaea Technologies Ltd, based in Tees Valley, will receive £3 million to help make biofuels from forestry waste.

Whiskey to biofuels

Celtic Renewables is working towards the production of sustainable biobutanol from whisky by-products as a direct replacement for petrol. Scotland’s £4-billion malt whisky industry produces annually two billion litres of liquid effluent and 750,000 tonnes of barley residue.

The company’s innovative technology not only provides a sustainable disposal route for these by-products, but also integrates renewable energy production with environmental sustainability and carbon reduction.

Assisted by NNFCC

Celtic Renewables was assisted by NNFCC in establishing its successful partnership with the flagship EU testing facility Bio-Base Europe Pilot Plant (BBEPP) in Belgium last year. Celtic Renewables was the first company to trial biobutanol technology at the demonstrator pilot facility in Ghent, and also the first Scottish company to sign an agreement with BBEPP.

The partnership was enabled with funding from a €10,000 ‘Innovation coupon’ from the European Commission Interreg North West Europe project Bio Base NWE, an NNFCC-supported project which aims to develop the biobased economy in North West Europe.

The company will use its £11m DfT funding to build a biofuel facility that will be operational by December 2018, producing at least 1million litres of biofuel, capable of powering cars, every year.

Professor Martin Tangney, the company’s founder and President, said he was delighted with the award which would allow it to create Europe’s first facility for acetone-butanol-ethanol (ABE) fermentation for 50 years.

Professor Tangney said: “Our aim is to reintroduce that process but in a modern context which allows us to use the leftovers from the whisky industry to create a fuel source that contributes to the low carbon future we all want.”

He added: “We are committed to developing a new industry right here in the UK that will be worth more than £100million-a-year and it starts here.

“We have already attracted investment and partners in the private sector and this funding announced today will allow us to scale-up to industrial production.

“Our next step is to open a demonstration facility and we are targeting a location in or near Grangemouth which is an area that’s strategically right for us.”

Replacing fossil fuels

Nova Pangea Technologies (NPT) received a £3m share of the grant to fund the demonstration of its low cost route to cellulosic sugars and on to ethanol for biofuels at significant scale. The process is unique in being continuous and, importantly, it is scalable to oil industry volumes.In due course it should provide a sustainable source for liquid transportation fuels and indeed chemicals, using a wide variety of biomass feedstocks and carries the prospect of replacing fossil fuels for these purposes.

The NPT technology uses a patented series of cost efficient and scalable physical and thermochemical processes to convert waste wood and forestry surplus into sugars which are turned into ethanol by commercial operators and then blended with petrol to supply forecourt fuel to consumers.

External consultants have forecast ethanol produced from UK forestry residues via NPT’s biomass fractionation process would have a GHG saving in excess of 95%.

NPT Chairman Barry Hedley said that the funding will assist the company as they “continue to develop the Refnova(TM) process.”

He added:  “It is our expectation that this UK biofuel technology will be licensed to biomass owners and processors across the globe.”

The technology is currently being developed through alliances with a number of academic and technical institutes in the UK and across the EU.

Turning waste into fuel

All the successful projects will use waste products which would otherwise be disposed of and turn them into biofuels, fuelling cars, heavy lorries or even aircraft. The Government competition was introduced to overcome barriers to investment by offering matched funding to support the construction of pre-commercial scale demonstration plants in the UK.

Transport minister Andrew Jones said: “This is a great example of our commitment to innovative transport technology and supporting jobs and growth.

“Biofuels have an important role to play in keeping Britain moving forward in a sustainable and environmentally-friendly way. This £25 million is not only a vital investment in technology that will help secure a greener future but will also support the creation of thousands of jobs.”

He added: “Advanced biofuels have the potential to save at least 60% of the greenhouse gas emissions from the equivalent fossil fuel. The 3 successful bids show how the government is investing in transport and making better, clean journeys.”

NNFCC CEO Dr Jeremy Tomkinson said: “I’m delighted to see the Government award funding to three UK companies developing innovative, green transport fuels.

“Advanced biofuels are an important asset in our fight to combat climate change and to provide an alternative fuel to the fossil based fuels we use today. It’s very encouraging to see new UK-based renewable technologies receiving support to become commercially viable.”

Source: NNFCC, press release, 2015-09-10.

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