Biomass collection

Four types of biomass will be selected for use in Bio4Products: straw, bark, forest residues and sunflower husks. Capax Environmental Services will be responsible for pre-treating the biomass streams, by sizing, drying and pelleting, and supplying large quantities of each of them to the fast pyrolysis plant for conversion.

Sustainability considerations

By targeting residual bio-resources Bio4Products aims for long-term sustainability. The selected biomass feedstocks are unsuitable for food production and do not stimulate indirect land use change (ILUC). Currently, there is also no commercially viable technology for industry to exploit these resources, rendering their harvest non-economic in many cases. To validate the sustainability of the selected feedstocks, Bio4Products will conduct in-depth assessments for each biomass type, considering: greenhouse gas emissions; energy use; competition with food and other applications; indirect land use change; carbon debt; biodiversity; impact on soil, water and air; and social and economic impacts.

Fast pyrolysis

The biomass streams will first be treated by BTG Biomass Technology Group, employing a state-of-the-art technique called fast pyrolysis. Fast pyrolysis is a short thermal treatment that converts solid biomass into a liquid in a matter of seconds, while preserving the original functionalities of the biomass. The result is fast pyrolysis bio-oil (FPBO), a liquid product which contains chemicals derived from the depolymerisation of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. Conversion to a bio-oil enables more efficient transport and processing compared to the original biomass.

Fractionation

The bio-oil generated by fast pyrolysis is currently used only as a heating fuel, but Bio4Products will break new ground by further processing this bio-oil to create added value materials. This upgrading is desirable both from an economic point of view (higher value products) and from environmental point of view (improved cascading). To achieve this, the depolymerised functional groups present in the bio-oil will be separated by fractionation to obtain a sugar stream (derived from cellulose and hemicellulose) and lignin stream (depolymerised lignin). These bio-intermediates are suitable for further processing into bio-based products.

Demo-plant

An important aspect of the project is the design, construction and operation of a novel fractionation demo-plant. Initially, BTG Biomass Technology Group will separate the bio-oil in a bench-scale fractionation unit, which can process 10-12 kg per hour. However, the larger demo-plant will scale up the processing capacity to 3 tonnes of bio-oil a day.

On the basis of the pilot plant, E4tech will evaluate the business feasibility of a full-scale commercial pyrolysis plant. A complete fractionation unit for a scale of 20-30 tonnes per day will be designed, and a financial assessment will be carried out to determine its likely economic performance and commercial potential.

Phenolic resins

Hexion will use the lignin stream to partially replace fossil phenol in a variety of its existing resin formulations, with possible applications in the automotive industry, insulation, steel industry/metal casting, household products and abrasives.

Hexion anticipates that up to 65% of the fossil material can be replaced in its phenolic resins.

Though ‘green resins’ are not a new concept, the utilisation of lignin obtained from fast pyrolysis creates specific advantages, and the low manufacturing costs generate more attractive economic scenarios compared to other methods.

Insulation foams

Hexion will also use the lignin stream to partially replace fossil phenol in the production of insulation foams for construction.

The aim is to achieve a replacement level of up to 30%.

The new product has enhanced resistance to fire in comparison to conventional Phenol Formaldehyde foams. Normally this fire resistance is only achieved through the addition of toxic elements such as phosporous or halogen compounds.

Sand moulding resins

TransFurans Chemicals will use the sugar fraction to replace the petro based components in the production of sand moulding resins and other furan based resins.

The aim is to deliver a replacement level of up to 75%.

TFC is already commercially active in the production of renewable bio-based furfuryl alcohol, however by utilising local, residual biomass in Bio4Products it can avoid the transport of material from South America, improving both its economic and environmental performance.

Modified wood

Foreco will develop a modified wood product, mostly for fencing applications. They will use a formulation supplied by TransFurans Chemicals, based on the sugar fraction.

The aim is to replace 100% of the fossil creosote with the sustainable sugar stream.

Modified pine wood is a sustainable alternative to wood treated with creosote, or tropical hardwood. After use, the modified wood can be used as a feedstock for fast pyrolysis, making it a fully circular product!

Commercialisation

Greenovate! Europe will conduct a detailed economic and market study to develop a strong business case for the four end products, and the overall value chain. Throughout the project Bio4Products will look to engage potential end-users and consumers via a series of workshops and webinars, and a targeted communication campaign.

Key to the marketability of the end products will be the improved environmental impact of the new value chains. To substantiate this, BTG Biomass Technology will perform a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) to compare the impact of the bio-based products to their fossil alternatives, taking into account biomass sustainability, transport, conversion routes and product use.

With considerable potential to include its sustainable resources in other product ranges, Bio4Products can help lay the foundations for a more innovative and sustainable process industry in Europe.