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Bid to build world’s first plant producing marine biofuel

Denmark’s Port of Frederikshavn, Aalborg University and energy specialist Steeper Energy, have partnered to establish the world’s first biomass-based plant producing a sustainable marine fuel.

The plant will produce sulphur-free fully renewable fuel for the several thousand vessels passing through the port annually.

“Based on our research plant at Aalborg University and on-going project activities of Steeper Energy to establish a pilot-scale plant in Alberta, Canada, the technical challenges and risk involved in a plant in Frederikshavn will be significantly reduced, paving the way for a full scale commercial plant in Denmark,” says Lasse Rosendahl, professor at Aalborg University, Department of Energy Technology.
 
This follows news of a zero-tolerance law on sulphur content in marine fuel, which comes into effect from 1 January 2015, in the Sox Emission Control Areas (SECA). This will force fleet operators in regions such as the North Sea and the Baltic Sea to either install flue gas cleaning equipment on board, or switch to a sulphur-free fuel.
 
According to the CEO at the Port of Frederikshavn, Mikkel Seedorf Sørensen, the port could potentially serve a marine fuel market of at least 900,000 tons a year. The new fuel will be a drop-in fuel, and thus be able to mix into what may be in the tanks already.
 
The size of the plant is initially set at around 50-100,000 tons fuel annually, and will only cover a part of the potential market. To produce this, some 2-3 times as much wood will be sourced from locations such as Russia, the Baltic nations, Sweden, Finland and Canada. This will be brought to the port by ship, making use of already existing biomass handling facilities at the port.
 
In the longer term a research effort will be directed at mixing in locally sourced feedstocks, such as short rotation coppice, manure and straw etc. This will be carried out at the research plant at Aalborg University, where the consequences of mixing feedstocks on product quality and operating conditions will be analysed before implementing this in full scale.
 
“Although the project will be established on a single feedstock, the plant design will accommodate the results of the research at Aalborg University,” said Steen B Iversen, CTO at Steeper Energy. “However, by building a solid business case on wood, we can focus on establishing a well functioning plant delivering a sustainable marine biofuel. Once this has been achieved, we can start thinking about extending the input range as well as considering a wider product portfolio, if this seems opportune.”
 
At this stage the project is still in an initial phase, where the main focus is to establish a well-founded business case and feasibility study. The next stage will involve seeking investors and partners for the engineering stage.
“With the flexibility and efficiency we have seen and demonstrated with the hydrothermal liquefaction technology in the lab it is a good candidate for an extremely resource efficient way of utilizing the limited global biomass resource, says Rosendahl. “In the long term it will not only be able to contribute in a very significant way to providing sustainable fuels to the transport sector at a global scale, but also to production of valuable platform chemicals previously produced from fossil sources.”

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