By Andrew K. Burger 14 Jul 2008 at 03:04 AM GMT-04:00
CADIZ, Spain (ResourceInvestor.com) Opportunities abound for forest, paper and pulp industry to play a leading role in the development of second-generation biofuels, such as gasifying refining so-called “black liquor” – the oily liquid residue produced in pulping wood to produce paper – to produce both bio-synthesis gas and liquid fuel.
Progress has been relatively slow due to a variety of factors, however, including the challenge of instilling a new industry mindset and culture geared towards innovation and R&D as opposed to one focused on cost-cutting to compete in commoditized markets. Managements can take a big step in direction by taking a holistic perspective of their forest, pulp and paper resources as integrated biorefineries, according to a growing number of industry participants, researchers and analysts.
A process of developed by Sweden’s Chemrec that converts biomass to motor fuels based on black liquor gasification looks like it can be a promising element of emerging new industry biofuels business strategies and plans. Announcing the results of a 4-year, 20 million euro study, RENEW, a consortium of 31 European organizations, found that Chemrec’s black liquor gasification process had the highest conversion efficiency, lowest product cost and the highest greenhouse emission reductions of the six different renewable, second-generation biomass-to-liquid fuels processes evaluated.
Pulp, Paper & Biofuels
The pulp and paper industry has the scale to produce more than 9 billion gallons per year of biofuels, or as much as 20,000 MW of biomass power - as much as 16 Quads of cumulative fossil energy savings – realize net CO2 emissions reductions of more than 100 million tons annually, in the process generating financial returns, relative to continued investment in existing technology, with internal rates of return between 15-40% depending of fuel prices and incentives, according to a presentation given by Navigant Consulting’s Ryan Katofsky at the “Florida Farm to Fuel Summit,” which took place in St. Petersburg July last year.
Not a single pulp and paper industry company was on the list when the US Dept. of Energy in 2007 awarded US$385 million worth of R&D funding to develop six biorefinery projects. Industry executives and participants stood up and took notice, and in February, Wisconsin’s NewPage was awarded a $30 million pledge from the DOE to build a small-scale biorefinery at its Wisconsin Rapids paper mill. The biorefinery would use the Fischer-Tropsch process to produce 5.5 million gallons per year of biodiesel from some 175,000 tons of wood waste, though management has not decided whether or not it will pursue the project to fruition.
Further down along the pulp and paper production line, NewPage has signed an agreement Chemrec to evaluate the feasibility of building a black liquor gasification (BLG) plant at its mill in Escanaba, Michigan. Preliminary indications are that converting pulp process waste into bio-syngas and then into liquid biofuel that could total as high as 13 million gallons per year.
Similarly, Flambeau River has signed a memorandum of understanding with Atlanta’s American Process to build a forest pulp mill biorefinery at its Park Falls, Wisconsin mill that is expected to produce 20 million gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol from waste pulping, or black, liquor.
Steam Heat, Zero Fossil Fuel and Biofuel <$1/gallon
Running on steam heat recovered heat from the pulp and paper production process, integrated biorefineries have the potential to make pulp and paper mills completely energy self-sufficient by eliminating fossil fuel use completely.
There are only four fossil fuel-free mills in North America at present, however, according to Benjamin A. Thorpe IV, president of Flambeau River Biorefinery and a CleanTech Partners’ strategic consultant.
In addition to the significant reductions in carbon emissions and the potential to market and sell surplus biofuel at a production cost below $1.00 gallon, there are a variety of additional value-added “green” chemical products that can be produced. The drain on water resources is also significantly less as compared to producing ethanol from corn, Thorpe notes, requiring only 1.56 gallons of water per gallon of fuel as compared to 18 gallons of water per equivalent gallon.
“The average U.S. integrated pulp and paper mill has a thermal demand of approximately 40% fossil fuel and ~60% biomass, which is largely met from combustion of black liquor. With a biorefinery, there is no longer an input for fossil fuel-based energy since the pulp and paper facilities run on recovered heat…The outputs include pulp and paper, plus one or more ‘green’ fuels or chemicals. Power input will be an option determined by its cost versus the value of other output streams,” Thorpe writes in a March 2008 published by Paper360˚.
Chemrec: The Leading Edge of BLG
There are a number of companies in Nordic/Scandinavia region at the forefront of putting new generation biorefinery technology to work. Sweden’s Chemrec is one of them. Management on June 22 announced that Volvo Technology Transfer and U.S.-based Vantage Point Venture Partners are making an equity investment in the company that will enable it to see its black liquor gasification the way through R&D to commercialization.
“Our target group is the chemical pulp sector, which is a global industry. For us, therefore, having an American shareholder is a definite advantage, as the US is a major market for our technology,” Jonas Rudberg, Chemrec AB´s managing director, stated in a media release.
Gasifying rather than incinerating black liquor in soda furnaces – as is common practice - results in the production of a number of by-products, including synthesis gas. The bio-syngas can then be turned into a range of liquid fuels, such as methanol, dimethyl ester (DME), Fischer-Tropsch synthetic diesel and hydrogen gas.
The investment will enable Chemrec to commercialize its first generation patented BLG process, in use at a mill in New Bern, North Carolina, and which increases the recovery of chemicals but doesn’t address energy efficiency. Its second generation process, which operates at high pressure to extract more energy, can be used to produce clean, renewable power or “green” motor fuels, according to company information.
Chemrec has been operating a high-temperature gasification plant at a mill in Pitea, Sweden that has been producing bio-syngas from black liquor for more than 1,100 operating hours. The next stage is turning the bio-syngas into fuel. The company, in partnership with the Swedish Energy Agency, Mistra and Swedish industry, plans to have a demonstration plant ready by the end of 2010 at a mill in Pitea, Sweden and have a commercial process ready for market by 2011.