A race has begun from oil refineries to bio-refining

Innovation in Business, Energy, and Environment

By Maive Rute

When filling up a tank at the gas station, we are aware of consuming finite fossil fuel resources and contributing to greenhouse gases. However, when we buy another unnecessary, but nice plastic object not many of us think where this plastic comes from. Up to 15 % of oil imports to Europe go to the chemical industry and are converted into a broad range of products from lubricants to plastics and various other materials. Practically all the same products could be derived from biological renewable raw materials like energy crops, waste and various other types of biomass.

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Significance of Biorefineries

By Elton Alisson
Agência FAPESP – Biorefineries, as are called the industrial complexes that produce fuel, electricity and chemicals from biomass, are becoming enterprise capable of converting a wide variety of materials, including agricultural waste, into several products. This process with more energy efficient, economic and environmental benefits compared to conventional technological processes that give rise to only one or two products.
According to Jonas Contiero, a professor at Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP), Campus of Rio Claro, the first biorefineries plants were characterized by production of ethyl alcohol by grinding dry grains such as raw materials and have a line of fixed production , which consists of ethyl alcohol in co-products and carbon dioxide.
Later, began to emerge in second generation Biorefineries that use technology for grinding “wet”, which enables the production of various final products, depending on demand, using mainly grains as raw materials. There are currently undergoing research…

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N.S.W in the forefront for algae fuel

Aquatic Biofuels

Renewable Energy technologies nearly always focus on new ways to develop electrical power. If you stop and think about it, wind, solar, wave, tidal, hydro and so on all produce electricity, and although of extreme relevance and importance to mitigate the effects of global warming and reduce greenhouse gases very little is being done to reduce emissions from the transport sector.

The only alternatives are electric transport (still utilizing electricity which is being produced from fossil fuels), hydrogen (not yet a viable and safe alternative) and ethanol fuel, which in some parts of the world has proven to be successful, however, it would mean a major change in engines and it would bring disadvantages to the sugar industry.

Fossil fuels are still therefore, a major part of our lives when it comes to transport; be it cars, buses, boats, planes or scooters and the Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) that…

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Hydrogen’s Energy Potential

The Pipeline

Questions swirl around the idea of bioethanol as an alternative to gasoline for powering transport, but researchers from the University of Birmingham have started creating clean hydrogen from food waste, an idea that could revolutionise the bioenergy industry.

A look at Brazil — the world’s most intensive user of bioethanol — finds that mass-producing bioethanol from sugarcane is not as sustainable in the long-term as would be hoped. Bioethanol generates carbon dioxide as well as agricultural waste.

However, creating clean hydrogen from food waste not only uses up that waste, but provides a fuel that is emissions free and can be generated sustainably.

“Fuel cells need clean energy to run them. If you provide bacteria with a supply of sugary waste from, for example, chocolate production, the bacteria can produce hydrogen,” said Professor Lynne Macaskie, Professor of Applied Microbiology at the University of Birmingham, who presented the research at a collaborative bioenergy…

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Biochemical Conversion of Wastes

Advanced waste-to-energy technologies can be used to produce biogas (methane and carbon dioxide), syngas (hydrogen and carbon monoxide), liquid biofuels (ethanol and biodiesel), or pure hydrogen. The most famous (and most important) biochemical conversion technologies are anaerobic digestion and alcohol fermentation. Anaerobic digestion is a series of chemical reactions during which organic material is decomposed through the metabolic pathways of naturally occurring microorganisms in an oxygen depleted environment. Alcohol fermentation is the transformation of organic fraction of biomass to ethanol by a series of biochemical reactions using specialized microorganisms. It finds good deal of application in the transformation of woody biomass into cellulosic ethanol.

Anaerobic Digestion

Anaerobic digestion is the natural biological process which stabilizes organic waste in the absence of air and transforms it into biofertilizer and biogas. Anaerobic digestion is a reliable technology for the treatment of wet, organic waste.  Organic waste from various sources is biochemically degraded in highly controlled, oxygen-free conditions circumstances resulting in the production of biogas which can be used to produce both electricity and heat. Almost any organic material can be processed with anaerobic digestion. This includes biodegradable waste materials such as municipal solid waste, animal manure, poultry litter, food wastes, sewage and industrial wastes.

An anaerobic digestion plant produces two outputs, biogas and digestate, both can be further processed or utilized to produce secondary outputs. Biogas can be used for producing electricity and heat, as a natural gas substitute and also a transportation fuel. A combined heat and power plant system (CHP) not only generates power but also produces heat for in-house requirements to maintain desired temperature level in the digester during cold season. In Sweden, the compressed biogas is used as a transportation fuel for cars and buses. Biogas can also be upgraded and used in gas supply networks.

Digestate can be further processed to produce liquor and a fibrous material. The fiber, which can be processed into compost, is a bulky material with low levels of nutrients and can be used as a soil conditioner or a low level fertilizer. A high proportion of the nutrients remain in the liquor, which can be used as a liquid fertilizer.

Biofuels Production

A variety of fuels can be produced from waste resources including liquid fuels, such as ethanol, methanol, biodiesel, Fischer-Tropsch diesel, and gaseous fuels, such as hydrogen and methane. The resource base for biofuel production is composed of a wide variety of forestry and agricultural resources, industrial processing residues, and municipal solid and urban wood residues. Globally, biofuels are most commonly used to power vehicles, heat homes, and for cooking.

The largest potential feedstock for ethanol is lignocellulosic biomass wastes, which includes materials such as agricultural residues (corn stover, crop straws and bagasse), herbaceous crops (alfalfa, switchgrass), short rotation woody crops, forestry residues, waste paper and other wastes (municipal and industrial). Bioethanol production from these feedstocks could be an attractive alternative for disposal of these residues. Importantly, lignocellulosic feedstocks do not interfere with food security.

Ethanol from lignocellulosic biomass is produced mainly via biochemical routes. The three major steps involved are pretreatment, enzymatic hydrolysis, and fermentation. Biomass is pretreated to improve the accessibility of enzymes. After pretreatment, biomass undergoes enzymatic hydrolysis for conversion of polysaccharides into monomer sugars, such as glucose and xylose. Subsequently, sugars are fermented to ethanol by the use of different microorganisms.

Future Perspectives for Biofuel Production

ImageFuels produced from biomass provide unique environmental, economic and social benefits and can be considered as a safe and clean liquid fuel alternative to fossil fuels. The biomass resource base is composed of a wide variety of biomass wastes, such as forestry resources, agricultural wastes, industrial processing residues, municipal solid wastes and marine resources.

Significant progress has been made in the past several years in all aspects of cellulosic and lignocellulosic biomass conversion to ethanol. The areas of focus include low-cost thermochemical pretreatment, highly effective enzymes and efficient and robust fermentative microorganisms. Innovation in industrial biotechnology, especially in the development of enzymes and genetically engineered microorganisms, is the key to the success of biofuel programs at commercial scale.  A good deal of research efforts are focused on exploring combinations of thermal, chemical and biological processes to develop the most efficient and economical route for the commercial production of cellulosic ethanol.

A biorefinery takes advantage of the various components in biomass and their intermediates by producing several products, therefore maximizing the value derived from the biomass feedstock. A biorefinery could produce high-value chemicals and transportation fuels, such as biodiesel or bioethanol. At the same time, it can generate electricity and process heat, through CHP technology, for its own use and perhaps enough for sale of electricity to the local utility.

Algae-based technologies could provide a key tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants and other carbon intensive industrial processes. In addition, algae production has great promise because algae generate higher energy yields and require much less space to grow than conventional feedstocks.

Major Obstacles in India’s Biodiesel Program

The unavailability of sufficient feedstock and lack of R&D to evolve high-yielding drought tolerant Jatropha seeds have been major stumbling blocks. In addition, smaller land holdings, ownership issues with government or community-owned wastelands, lackluster progress by state governments and negligible commercial production of biodiesel have hampered the efforts and investments made by both private and public sector companies.

Another major obstacle in implementing the biodiesel programme has been the difficulty in initiating large-scale cultivation of Jatropha. The Jatropha production program was started without any planned varietal improvement program, and use of low-yielding cultivars made things difficult for smallholders. The higher gestation period of biodiesel crops (3–5 years for Jatropha and 6–8 years for Pongamia) results in a longer payback period and creates additional problems for farmers where state support is not readily available. The Jatropha seed distribution channels are currently underdeveloped as sufficient numbers of processing industries are not operating. There are no specific markets for Jatropha seed supply and hence the middlemen play a major role in taking the seeds to the processing centres and this inflates the marketing margin.

 Biodiesel distribution channels are virtually non-existent as most of the biofuel produced is used either by the producing companies for self-use or by certain transport companies on a trial basis. Further, the cost of biodiesel depends substantially on the cost of seeds and the economy of scale at which the processing plant is operating. The lack of assured supplies of feedstock supply has hampered efforts by the private sector to set up biodiesel plants in India. As of now, only two firms, Naturol Bioenergy Limited and Southern Online Biotechnologies, have embarked on commercial-scale biodiesel projects, both in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. In the absence of seed collection and oil extraction infrastructure, it becomes difficult to persuade entrepreneurs to install trans-esterification plants.

Concept of Biorefinery

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A biorefinery is a facility that integrates biomass conversion processes and equipment to produce fuels, power, and value-added chemicals from biomass. The biorefinery concept is analogous to today’s petroleum refinery, which produces multiple fuels and products from petroleum.By producing several products, a biorefinery takes advantage of the various components in biomass and their intermediates, therefore maximizing the value derived from the biomass feedstock. A biorefinery could, for example, produce one or several low-volume, but high-value, chemical products and a low-value, but high-volume liquid transportation fuel such as biodiesel or bioethanol. At the same time, it can generate electricity and process heat, through CHP technology, for its own use and perhaps enough for sale of electricity to the local utility. The high value products increase profitability, the high-volume fuel helps meet energy needs, and the power production helps to lower energy costs and reduce GHG emissions from traditional power plant facilities.

There are several platforms which can be employed in biorefineries with the major ones being the sugar platform and the thermochemical platform (also known as syngas platform). Sugar platform biorefineries breaks down biomass into different types of component sugars for fermentation or other biological processing into various fuels and chemicals. On the other hand, thermochemical biorefineries transform biomass into synthesis gas (hydrogen and carbon monoxide) or pyrolysis oil.

The thermochemical biomass conversion process is complex, and uses components, configurations, and operating conditions that are more typical of petroleum refining. Biomass is converted into syngas, and syngas is converted into an ethanol-rich mixture. However, syngas created from biomass contains contaminants such as tar and sulphur that interfere with the conversion of the syngas into products. These contaminants can be removed by tar-reforming catalysts and catalytic reforming processes. This not only cleans the syngas, it also creates more of it, improving process economics and ultimately cutting the cost of the resulting ethanol.

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Biomass Energy Resources in Indonesia

With Indonesia’s recovery from the Asian financial crisis of 1998, energy consumption has grown rapidly in past decade. The priority of the Indonesian energy policy is to reduce oil consumption and to use renewable energy. For power generation, it is important to increase electricity power in order to meet national demand and to change fossil fuel consumption by utilization of biomass wastes. The development of renewable energy is one of priority targets in Indonesia.

It is estimated that Indonesia produces 146.7 million tons of biomass per year, equivalent to about 470 GJ/y. The source of biomass energy is scattered all over the country, but the big potential in concentrated scale can be found in the Island of Kalimantan, Sumatera, Irian Jaya and Sulawesi. Studies estimate the electricity generation potential from the roughly 150 Mt of biomass residues produced per year to be about 50 GW or equivalent to roughly 470 GJ/year. These studies assume that the main source of biomass energy in Indonesia will be rice residues with a technical energy potential of 150 GJ/year. Other potential biomass sources are rubber wood residues (120 GJ/year), sugar mill residues (78 GJ/year), palm oil residues (67 GJ/year), and less than 20 GJ/year in total from plywood and veneer residues, logging residues, sawn timber residues, coconut residues, and other agricultural wastes.

Sustainable and renewable natural resources such as biomass can supply potential raw materials for energy conversion. In Indonesia, they comprise variable-sized wood from forests (i.e. natural forests, plantations and community forests that commonly produce small-diameter logs used as firewood by local people), woody residues from logging and wood industries, oil-palm shell waste from crude palm oil factories, coconut shell wastes from coconut plantations, as well as skimmed coconut oil and straw from rice cultivation.

The major crop residues to be considered for power generation in Indonesia are palm oil sugar processing and rice processing residues. Currently, 67 sugar mills are in operation in Indonesia and eight more are under construction or planned. The mills range in size of milling capacity from less than 1,000 tons of cane per day to 12,000 tons of cane per day. Current sugar processing in Indonesia produces 8 millions MT bagasse and 11.5 millions MT canes top and leaves. There are 39 palm oil plantations and mills currently operating in Indonesia, and at least eight new plantations are under construction. Most palm oil mills generate combined heat and power from fibres and shells, making the operations energy self –efficient. However, the use of palm oil residues can still be optimized in more energy efficient systems.

Other potential source of biomass energy can also come from municipal wastes. The quantity of city or municipal wastes in Indonesia is comparable with other big cities of the world. Most of these wastes are originated from household in the form of organic wastes from the kitchen. At present the wastes are either burned at each household or collected by the municipalities and later to be dumped into a designated dumping ground or landfill. Although the government is providing facilities to collect and clean all these wastes, however, due to the increasing number of populations coupled with inadequate number of waste treatment facilities in addition to inadequate amount of allocated budget for waste management, most of big cities in Indonesia had been suffering from the increasing problem of waste disposals.

The current pressure for cost savings and competitiveness in Indonesia’s most important biomass-based industries, along with the continually growing power demands of the country signal opportunities for increased exploitation of biomass wastes for power generation.

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Biomass Resources from Sugar Industry

Venezuelan sugar cane (Saccharum) harvested fo...
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Sugarcane is one of the most promising agricultural sources of biomass energy in the world. It is the most appropriate agricultural energy crop in most Cane producing countries due to its resistance to cyclonic winds, drought, pests and diseases, and its geographically widespread cultivation. Due to its high energy-to-volume ratio, it is considered one of nature’s most effective storage devices for solar energy and the most economically significant energy crop. The climatic and physiological factors that limit its cultivation to tropical and sub-tropical regions have resulted in its concentration in developing countries, and this, in turn, gives these countries a particular role in the world’s transition to sustainable use of natural resources.

 According to the International Sugar Organization (ISO), Sugarcane is a highly efficient converter of solar energy, and has the highest energy-to-volume ratio among energy crops. Indeed, it gives the highest annual yield of biomass of all species. Roughly, 1 ton of Sugarcane biomass-based on Bagasse, foliage and ethanol output – has an energy content equivalent to one barrel of crude oil.   Sugarcane produces mainly two types of biomass, Cane Trash and Bagasse. Cane Trash is the field residue remaining after harvesting the Cane stalk and Bagasse is the milling by-product which remains after extracting the Sugar from the stalk. The potential energy value of these residues has traditionally been ignored by policy-makers and masses in developing countries. However, with rising fossil fuel prices and dwindling firewood supplies, this material is increasingly viewed as a valuable Renewable Energy resource.

Sugar mills have been using Bagasse to generate steam and electricity for internal plant requirements while Cane Trash remains underutilized to a great extent. Cane Trash and Bagasse are produced during the harvesting and milling process of Sugar Cane which normally lasts 6 to 7 months.

Around the world, a portion of the Cane Trash is collected for sale to feed mills, while freshly cut green tops are sometimes collected for farm animals. In most cases, however, the residues are burned or left in the fields to decompose. Cane Trash, consisting of Sugarcane tops and leaves can potentially be converted into around 1kWh/kg, but is mostly burned in the field due to its bulkiness and its related high cost for collection/transportation.

 On the other hand, Bagasse has been traditionally used as a fuel in the Sugar mill itself, to produce steam for the process and electricity for its own use. In general, for every ton of Sugarcane processed in the mill, around 190 kg Bagasse is produced. Low pressure boilers and low efficiency steam turbines are commonly used in developing countries. It would be a good business proposition to upgrade the present cogeneration systems to highly efficient, high pressure systems with higher capacities to ensure utilization of surplus Bagasse.

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Biomass Energy in Malaysia

Fruit of oil palm tree
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Oil palm plantation on the slopes of Mt. Cameroon
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Biomass is one of the most important sources of renewable energy in Malaysia. The National Biofuel Policy, launched in 2006 encourages the use of environmentally friendly, sustainable and viable sources of biomass energy. Under the Five Fuel Policy, the government of Malaysia has identified biomass as one of the potential renewable energy. Malaysia produces atleast 168 million tonnes of biomass, including timber and oil palm waste, rice husks, coconut trunk fibres, municipal waste and sugar cane waste annually. Being a major agricultural commodity producer in the region Malaysia is well positioned amongst the ASEAN countries to promote the use of biomass as a renewable energy source.

Malaysia has been one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of palm oil for the last forty years. The Palm Oil industry, besides producing Crude Palm Oil (CPO) and Palm Kernel Oil, produces Palm Shell, Press Fibre, Empty Fruit Bunches (EFB), Palm Oil Mill Effluent (POME), Palm Trunk (during replanting) and Palm Fronds (during pruning). Almost 70% of the volume from the processing of fresh fruit bunch is removed as waste.  Malaysia has approximately 4 million hectares of land under oil palm plantation. Over 75% of total area planted is located in just four states, Sabah, Johor, Pahang and Sarawak, each of which has over half a million hectares under cultivation. The total amount of processed FFB (Fresh Fruit Bunches) was estimated to be 75 million tons while the total amount of EFB produced was estimated to be 16.6 million tons. Around 58 million tons of POME is produced in Malaysia annually, which has the potential to produce an estimated 15 billion m3 of biogas can be produced each year.

Rice husk is another important agricultural biomass resource in Malaysia with good potential for power cogeneration. An example of its attractive energy potential is biomass power plant in the state of Perlis which uses rice husk as the main source of fuel and generates 10 MW power to meet the requirements of 30,000 households. The US$15 million project has been undertaken by Bio-Renewable Power Sdn Bhd in collaboration with the Perlis state government, while technology provider is Finland’s Foster Wheeler Energia Oy.

Under the EC-ASEAN Cogeneration Program, there are three ongoing Full Scale Demonstration Projects (FSDPs) – Titi Serong, Sungai Dingin Palm Oil Mill and TSH Bioenergy – to promote biomass energy systems in Malaysia. The 1.5MW Titi Serong power plant, located at Parit Buntar (Perak), is based on rice husk while the 2MW Sungai Dingin Palm Oil Mill project make use of palm kernel shell and fibre to generate steam and electricity. The 14MW TSH Bioenergy Sdn Bhd, located at Tawau (Sabah), is the biggest biomass power plant in Malaysia and utilizes empty fruit bunches, palm oil fibre and palm kernel shell as fuel resources.

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