Renewable advanced biofuels and their role in the energy system

Advanced biofuels are liquid fuels for transport produced from certain feedstock that meet sustainability and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission criteria. These can be lignocellulosic feedstocks (i.e. agricultural and forestry residues), non-food crops (i.e. grasses, miscanthus, algae), or industrial waste and residue streams that have low CO2 emission or high GHG reduction, and reaches zero or low indirect land use change (ILUC) impact, overcoming the main drawbacks of conventional or first generation biofuels. By 2030, European Member States must require fuel suppliers to supply a minimum of 14% of the energy consumed in road and rail transport as renewable energy, with a minimum contribution of 3.5% from advanced biofuels[1].

Why are drop-in advanced biofuels relevant for the energy transition?

Drop-in biofuels are liquid hydrocarbons that are of interest due to their compatibility with existing fossil-fuels infrastructure and utilization pathways, being considered the most readily available alternative for direct implementation in the transport sector, enabling a faster energy transition in the segments that cannot be easily decarbonized by electrification (i.e. aviation, maritime). In this blog post, I will introduce one of the technologies under development for the production of this type of fuels, sharing some aspects related to my research in this field.

About hydtrothermal liquefaction (HTL) technology:

In the hydrothermal liquefaction technology (HTL), hydrocarbon molecules are formed when the biomass is subjected at high temperatures and pressures in the presence of water for a relatively short period of time. It is thought that this process mimics at some extent the natural conversion of organic matter to fossil crude that takes place underground but in much larger time scales. In a next step, the produced oil typically goes through additional treatment depending on the target market in order to meet the quality requirements. Since water is needed in the HTL process, this technology is especially suitable for wet feedstock such as algae and residual streams like sewage sludge and municipal waste, being an interesting research area for the valorization of urban wastes into fuels.

Some experiences in my PhD so far:

As you may expect, studying the feasibility of implementing such a technology at the large scales needed in the future brings many challenges and requires a lot of team work. Communication between people working at the core of the technology, handling heterogeneous, complex and sometimes stinky material, and people working at the implementation side looking at resource availability, material sourcing, modeling, cost estimation etc. is essential.   Being part of the research group at Aalborg University with expertise in this topic and having the possibility to interact with people from different disciplines and companies within the ENSYSTRA network has been a key aspect of my PhD process to understand the challenges of technology development from different perspectives. My secondment stay at Goodfuels, a Dutch company in the business of renewable biofuels, has been a great experience to wide my knowledge about the real-life implementation of biofuels particularly in the maritime market, which is of great importance for the energy transition in the North Sea region.

If you have any questions of queries, please direct them to the author Eliana Lozano or the ENSYSTRA Project Manager Dirk Kuiken or Deborah Groeneweg.

If you are interested in the specifics of the 15 research projects, you can find summaries and video explanations from the researchers here.

Our project is supported by 23 industry partner institutions.

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