VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has won the EARTO Innovation 2012 prize for its biomass-based bio-oil production process that marks the beginning of a new era in the energy sector. According to EARTO, the innovative process combines two different technologies – pyrolysis and combustion – within a power plant in such a way that each benefits from the other. The new technology makes the commercial production of bio-oil financially viable for the first time.
VTT has developed the process in collaboration with the Finnish energy company Fortum, technology specialist Metso Power and forestry firm UPM. The project has also been part of the BioRefine programme of the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation. About to be implemented on an industrial scale, the process will enable significant bio-oil production capacity by 2020 – the year by which Europe must achieve 20% of its final energy consumption from renewable energy.
Commercial and environmental advantages
VTT’s process involves connecting a state-of-the-art pyrolysis reactor, which pyrolyzes wood biomass and then compresses it into liquid form, to a conventional fluidised bed boiler for the co-generation of electricity and heat. This novel union delivers outstanding energy efficiency, as the bio-oil production process can use heat recovered from the power plant that would otherwise be wasted and uncondensed gases and char from the pyrolysis process are fed into the boiler for combustion alongside the plant’s primary fuel.
Using bio-oil as a replacement for heavy fuel oil in district heating applications has been found to result in reduced CO2 emissions of up to 70%. Three additional factors greatly boost the commercial potential of the process: investment and utilisation costs are lower than when pyrolysis is a separate process, existing fuel logistics benefit from producing bio-oil from the same raw materials already being used at the plant and the bio-oil produce is of a quality acceptable to end users.
The first integrated bio-oil production plant in the world is expected to go live in 2013, providing cost-effective heat for around 24,000 apartments with only small CO2 emissions.