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Biorefinery processes for the production of fungible biofuels

Project location: CanmetENERGY Ottawa

Timeline: 3 years (2020 to 2023)

Program: Bioenergy

Project description

To accelerate the adoption of renewable fuels in Canada, industry and government need to accelerate the commercialization of these fuels through innovative R&D and technology development.

Our team is responding to this need by developing processes for producing biomass-derived fungible fuels or biofuels. These biofuels are interchangeable with today’s fossil fuels. Our attention focuses on second-generation drop-in lignocellulosic fuels for transportation, such as renewable diesel and biojet, as well as renewable natural gas (RNG). We work collaboratively with leading industrial and government stakeholders.

Renewable natural gas

Renewable natural gas (RNG) is a methane-rich gas mixture produced from biomass and is indistinguishable from fossil natural gas. Currently, RNG is produced by upgrading the biogas that comes from the microbial digestion of organic waste in wastewater treatment plants, landfills, and anaerobic digesters. Although RNG makes up only a very small fraction of the total natural gas produced in Canada today, there are plans to have RNG make up a tenth of the total natural gas supply by 2030. This will require industrial-scale gasification of biomass.

Our team is working to lower the production costs and increase the reliability of achieving high-quality syngas (low inert gas concentration and H2/CO ratio >3) from biomass gasification. The three components of this work are:

  1. feedstock preprocessing and standardization
  2. optimizing the gasifier’s operation
  3. developing low-cost, high-efficiency downstream syngas cleaning technologies

We are achieving this through a rigorous pilot-scale experimental program tied to process/cost modelling. We are assessing feedstock properties and experimental operating parameters, in order to develop correlations and input them into the process/cost model. Ultimately, this will guide scale-up for industrial use. Finally, we are quantifying the effectiveness of syngas cleaning technologies by using online techniques developed in house, and novel, real-time instrumentation to measure contaminants in the syngas.


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Biojet fuel (sustainable aviation fuel)

There is a strong demand for large quantities of biojet fuels (biojet) from sustainable sources by the aviation industry, in order to begin capping CO2 emissions in 2020 and reduce them by 50% by 2050 (relative to 2005 levels). For Canada alone, the annual biojet requirement is projected to be about 920 million litres by 2035. This is the driving force for converting lignocellulose-derived intermediates into biojet fuels.

Our team continues to address technical gaps related to the production of biojet from bio-oils and biocrudes by catalytic hydrotreating using highly dispersed catalysts. To deliver our experimental program, we use a reconfigurable, continuous semi-pilot-scale hydroprocessing unit in order to produce a jet fuel fraction that meets the ASTM D-7566/CGSB 3.23 biojet specifications. We collaborate with private-sector partners, including participants in “The Sky’s the Limit” Challenge.

Diesel fuel from lignin

The Canadian railway companies represented by the Railway Association of Canada (RAC) intend to continue reducing their carbon footprint. Canada’s railways, who move 70% of all intercity freight and 84 million passengers on a yearly basis, are particularly interested in renewable diesel fuel.

Our team continues to develop a technology package for large-scale demonstration of catalytic conversion of lignin-derived intermediates to renewable diesels meeting specifications, as part of a biorefinery scenario. Our goal is to produce high-quality lignin-derived diesel fuel and determine the blending limits that meet the Canadian General Standards Board’s (CGSB) locomotive fuel specifications. We work in collaboration with other government agencies to offer competitive, low-carbon energy solutions to economically vital industrial transportation sectors.

Contact CanmetENERGY in Ottawa

To learn more about this project, email our Business Office.

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