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Reliable Bio-based Refinery Intermediates

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - BioMates (Reliable Bio-based Refinery Intermediates)

Reporting period: 2020-09-01 to 2022-03-31

Europe needs next-generation-biofuels-plants to reach specific environmental targets while petroleum refinery capacity is underutilized, degrading trade balance and refinery profitability and shrinking employment opportunities. While conventional biofuels (from food crops) were proven a non-sustainable solution in addressing the environmental issues, 2nd generation biofuels (from lignocellulosic and residual biomass) are not yet cost-competitive as they aim in producing drop-in fuels with several energy demanding conversion steps. The BioMates approach aspires in combining innovative 2nd generation biomass conversion technologies for the cost-effective production of bio-based intermediates (BioMates) that can be further upgraded in existing oil refineries next to fossil intermediates, as renewable and reliable co-feedstocks.

The project aims at enhancing the EU competitiveness, as the only EU project dedicated in valorizing 2G biomass via existing petroleum refineries for the direct decarbonization of transportation fuels, with the potential of satisfying 15% of the liquid transport fuel demand while enabling 50-140 million tons per year GHG emission savings. Moreover, the technology commercialization has the potential of reducing by 7% the imports of crude oil enabling over 7.5 billion € savings from oil imports, as well as creation of over 4,900 jobs in in rural areas.

The BioMates approach encompasses innovative biomass conversion technologies, including ablative fast pyrolysis (AFP) and single-stage mild catalytic hydroprocessing (mild-HDT) as main processes. Fast pyrolysis in-line-catalysis and fine-tuning of BioMates-properties are additional steps to improve the conversion efficiency and cost efficiency of BioMates, as well as its quality, reliability and competitiveness. Incorporating state-of-the-art hydrogen production from renewable sources and sophisticated electrochemical compression of the hydrogen required as well as optimised energy integration completes the sustainable technical approach leading to improved sustainability and decreased fossil energy dependency. The BioMates approach for decarbonising the transportation fuels will be demonstrated via pilot units in an industrially relevant environment (“Technology Readiness Level” 5). This will allow for the development of an integrated, sustainability-driven business case encompassing commercial and social exploitation strategy.
The most important part of the 1st and 2nd reporting periods (RP1 and RP2) project work was to perform the actions at the beginning of time-critical pathways of the overall workflow:
• Producing advanced AFP bio-oil in the TRL4-pyrolysis-plant, enabling staged condensation and in-line catalysis
• Developing catalysts for mild hydrotreating (mild-HDT),
• Optimising mild-HDT for the produced AFP bio-oil, using the developed catalysts
• Developing the electrochemical H2 compressor (EHC) / electrochemical H2 purification (EHP) to be used later on makeup hydrogen in the mild-HDT validation plant
• Starting sustainability assessment and preparing for first feedback to production (AFP + mild-HDT)
• Preparing settings and scenario descriptions for starting the sustainability assessment (which is completed and agreed upon by all partners now).

The main results achieved within the 1st and 2nd reporting periods include:
• Straight-run bio-oil production in TRL4 from both Straw and Miscanthus showed a yield of approximately 20 wt.-%.
• AFP with staged condensation delivers a single-phase condensate at a first-stage-condensation-temperature of 66°C (straw) and 62 °C (Miscanthus).
• For lab-scale mild-HDT of straight-run, straw-based bio-oil, conditions of 330 °C and 7 MPa led to optimum BioMates properties when using the newly developed catalyst. Here, increasing BioMates' hydrogen content from 8.3 to 11.7 wt%, reaching a degree of deoxygenation 89 % and decreasing the acid number from 78 to 0.2 mg KOH/g was possible5.
• With the EHC recovery of >80 % of the hydrogen is possible from 95 % H2/N2-mixtures at the cost of a slightly higher driving voltage compared to compressing pure H2.
• Light cycle oil (FCC LCO) and Light vacuum gas oil (LVGO) are the most promising candidates of intermediate streams in conventional refineries to be blended with BioMates.

During the 3rd reporting period the TRL5 validation has started and is ongoing, including the following actions:
• AFP TRL5 plant adjustment (integration of char collecting chamber and additional heat exchanger of oil condensation) to enable longer operation and fractional condensation according to DoA (WP3)
• Quality evaluation of TRL5 bio-oil (WP3)
• Pretesting of TRL5 bio-oil (WP3) at TRL3 mild-HDT plant to evaluate performance and compare with that of TRL4 bio-oil (WP1)
• Commissioning of TRL5 mild-HDT revamped system and operational testing
• Harmonization of mild-HDT TRL5 operation incorporating quality differences between TRL4 and TRL5 bio-oil
• Integration of EHP/EHC stack
• Risk mitigation of COVID-19 pandemic impact to project continuation and health of personnel of participants involved

The main results achieved during the 3rd reporting period include:
• Production of 1040 kg of bio-oil (organic fraction) by M48 for subsequent upgrading via mild-HDT
• Significant difference of TRL4 (WP1) and TRL5 (WP3) AFP bio-oil quality (high solids and high carbonyls content), limiting operation of downstream mild-HDT upgrading (fast reactor ΔP build-up)
• Evaluation of various mitigation plans for reducing the impact of the limiting TRL5 bio-oil quality (high solids and high carbonyls content) on downstream upgrading via mild-HDT (solids ex- and in-situ filtration, solids centrifugation, carbonyls ex- and in-situ neutralisation)
• Validation of potential to overcome the TLR5 bio-oil limiting quality effect on downstream mild-HDT by bio-oil pretreatment
The BioMates project develops and validates an innovative, cost-competitive and environmentally superior pyrolysis and hydroprocessing technology, rendering bio-based intermediates which can be directly integrated within existing oil refineries. The technological innovations assimilated in the project are expected to validate the low-cost production of high-quality bio-based intermediates (BioMates) which can be easily transported and integrated in oil refinery units.

The favourable production cost will be achieved via:
• Cheap, available feedstock with no or very low generation of direct or indirect land-use change
• Decentralized Ablative Fast Pyrolysis (AFP)
• Single-step hydroprocessing of bio-oil
• Innovated hydroprocessing catalyst
• EHC and purification of recycled gas (rich in hydrogen)
• Renewable make-up hydrogen (fed into the system to compensate for losses and consumption of H2)

Moreover, the BioMates approach will provide a link of the rural areas that have significant potential for development with the EU refining industry that will be the end user of BioMates. As a result, there are several social benefits that the BioMates approach encompasses, which include:
• Enhancement of EU competitiveness
• Job creation in rural areas
• Secure energy supply / minimize imports

The overall environmental, economic and social sustainability will be ensured by a comprehensive integrated sustainability assessment to avoid undesired side effects.
The BioMates approch