Can Biodiesel Be Made From Wood Chips?
Biodiesel, as we all know, is a type of environmentally
sound fuel that is manufactured through a chemical reaction achieved from mixing vegetable or animal oils and mixing them with alcohol and
But recent developments in research and development of alternative forms of fuel brought about a new way of
creating biodiesel and this time the medium is wood chips instead of organic oils.
Recent news reports indicate that Shell and Choren Industries, a German based biofuel company, are planning to
build a biodiesel production facility in Europe which would focus on manufacturing fuel made from wood chips and straw.
This new innovative way of creating biodiesel fuel is very significant since this time around, production of
biodiesel will incorporate the use of waste plant materials instead of valuable food crops. The new synthetic diesel will be made using a new
biomass-to-liquids (BTL) process.
Shell and Choren are planning to build the plant near Freiberg. The plant is expected to have an output of
15,000 tons per year of synthetic diesel. Choren has already given the fuel a name: Sunfuel. And it seems both companies are bent on making this
new type of biodiesel commercially available in the quickest possible time.
In fact even if the construction of the plant in Freiberg is still at its infancy stage, both the fuel
manufacturing giants are already planning a construction of a much bigger plant in Schleswig-Holstein. The plant is said to cost around €500
million or £336 million to build. However, the capacity of the plant will be nothing short of 200,000 ton of BTL in a year.
The problem with the first-generation biofuels is the fact that it has caused a significant price increase of
food crop commodities.
As the demand for biofuels increase, instead of using food crops to feed the hungry they are being used to feed
the needs of automobiles. Thus, the significance of biofuels from waste wood chips is huge.
Shell is the biggest biofuel distributor in the world. It has continued to invest on such endeavors and the
wood chip to fuel idea is not the only one. The fuel giant also has a BTL investment in Canadian company Iogen. Iogen has recently acquired an
$80 million or £41 million grant from the US Government to construct a biofuel production plant in Idaho. But instead of food crops or wood
chips, the plant will be using primarily cellulosic ethanol from plant waste and straw.
Moreover, Shell is building Pearl, a GTL plant in Qatar which is expected to yield 140,000 barrels per day of
synthetic diesel. This synthetic diesel is said to be odorless and has zero sulphur emissions.
The technology behind the BLT processes came from Germany in the 1930s. The process which is known as the
Fischer-Tropsch process began in Germany and was used to synthesize liquid fuels from coal. Although, the process really never took off due to
the high costs and was therefore deemed uneconomical. But as science and technology improved, far better catalysts were discovered which made the
process commercially viable.
The only problem with the BLT process is that it is still high cost. However, the movers behind this innovative
fuel way of manufacturing fuel are optimistic that before it becomes commercially available, the production costs have gone down
These developments in the alternative fuel industry are definitely something worth waiting for. It is also
interesting to see how major players in the biofuel industry will react to the BLT process that Shell is advocating.