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Joining forces to develop a new fuel

Stora Enso and Neste Oil have joined forces to develop the technology for, and later produce, new-generation biofuel from forest industry residues. The project underlines how what used to be seen as waste is becoming an increasingly valuable resource.

New-generation commercial technologies capable of making use of widely available biomass as a feedstock for biofuels are very much in demand today – to help combat challenges such as climate change and growing concerns about how long we can realistically rely on oil.

Stora Enso and Neste Oil are building a 12 MW demonstration plant for gasification and gas reforming trials at Stora Enso’s Varkaus mill as part of the companies’ new-generation biofuels initiative.

A densely forested country like Finland, with an extensive pulp and paper industry, generates large quantities of one major category of biomass: forest residues. This has been put to use in increasing volumes over the years to generate heat and power, and its potential as a fuel, particularly in cogeneration, was one of the main catalysts involved in the development of bubbling fluidised bed (BFB) and circulating fluidised bed (CFB) combustion for energy-generation purposes.

Forest products giant Stora Enso and leading refiner Neste Oil have now set their sights on developing technology to produce a new generation of biofuel from this type of residue, and have set up a 50/50 joint venture known as NSE Biofuels for the purpose. A 12 MW demonstration plant for gasification and gas reforming trials is currently being built at Stora Enso’s Varkaus mill in central Finland and is scheduled to start up in spring 2009.

The process behind Stora Enso / Neste Oil Joint Venture

Ultra-clean syngas

The biomass gasification technology being employed was initially developed as part of the Ultra Clean Gas project, which ran between 2004 and 2007 and was led by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, which is acting as the main research and testing partner for the joint venture. Gasification equipment is being supplied by Foster Wheeler, a leader in the field.

The demonstration process is based on the use of Fischer-Tropsch (FT) synthesis and covers the entire chain from drying wood-based biomass to testing the FT catalysts needed to produce bio-based crude wax that can then be refined into premium-quality renewable diesel by Neste Oil. Much of the development effort has focused on ensuring good syngas output from of an oxygen-blown CFB gasifier and that it can be reformed and cleaned catalytically to a sufficiently high level of purity to yield the best results from the latest generation of FT synthesis.

Energy efficiency, the ability to handle different types of feedstock, and the potential for integration with existing pulp and paper mills have also been prioritised in the design.

The demonstration plant will start using sawmill by-products, shavings, and sawdust before testing the main feedstock intended for a commercial-scale plant: forest residues, such as logging waste, stumps, and small-dimension logs that cannot be used as pulpwood.

When sufficient experience has been accumulated with the demonstration plant, the plan is to build a full-scale commercial facility at one of Stora Enso’s mills capable of producing in the order of 100,000 t/a of bio-based crude wax for final refining into renewable diesel by Neste Oil.

Over the longer term, the gasification technology being developed could have the potential for producing other products, such as chemicals, plastics, and alcohols.

Leaders in their industries

Stora Enso is an integrated forest products company that produces newsprint, magazine paper, fine paper, consumer board, industrial packaging, and wood products. The company has an annual production capacity of 13.1 million tonnes of paper and board and 7.5 million cubic metres of sawn goods, and has plants in Europe, Latin America, and Asia, supplying publishers, printing houses, paper merchants, and the packaging, joinery, and construction industries.

With a focus on low-emission, high-quality traffic fuels, Neste is committed to growing both its oil refining and premium-quality renewable diesel businesses. The company’s refineries at Porvoo and Naantali have a combined crude oil refining capacity of some 260,000 barrels a day. One plant based on the company’s NExBTL technology is already producing advanced renewable diesel – which offers greater effcieincy and a lower level of environmental impact than either fossil diesel or FAME-type biodiesel – and another three are building: in Finland, the Netherlands, and Singapore.


A sustainable resource

The world’s growing demand for biofuels is being driven by a mix of factors, such as climate change, ambitious regulatory targets, uncertainties surrounding the future price and availability of oil, and a desire for increased energy self-sufficiency.

New-generation biofuels, such as the wood-based renewable diesel being developed by the Stora Enso-Neste Oil joint venture, have the potential to make a valuable contribution to reducing CO₂ emissions, by replacing fossil fuels with a carbon-neutral alternative. As a non-food resource, forest residues are also not compromised by the issues involved in current biofuel raw materials, which are all part of the food chain and have the potential to impact food supply and food prices.

The use of forest residues also offers a number of synergy benefits with existing wood material flows and can improve the overall efficiency and economics of the forest products sector.

> Antti Jääskeläinen/Stora Enso and Henrik Erämetsä/Neste Oil
(Published in HighTech Finland 2009)