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Consortium gets Government backing to turn waste biomass into transport biofuel

Greenwise Staff
15th March 2010
A consortium of British businesses has netted £7 million of Government funding to develop a technology that could see mini refineries sited near landfill sites up and down the country producing cheap, carbon efficient biofuel for transport from waste. 

The consortium is working on a process called pyrolysis, which chemically decomposes organic matter through heating. In this case it is developing the process to transform waste biomass into commercially viable, sustainable biofuel for transport.

If successful, the project could overcome the problems associated with existing biofuels, and according to those behind the consortium, help to bring down carbon emissions from transport and put the UK at the forefront of sustainable biofuel production.

The consortium is led by Axion Energy and includes Catal International Ltd, CARE Ltd and Aquafuels Research Ltd. Together, these companies have the technical capabilities spanning the complete pyrolysis-to-fuel supply chain.

One of the attractions of using pyrolysis to turn waste biomass into biofuel is that it does not compete with food crops for land space. It also has the potential to make significant carbon savings compared to fossil fuels because it avoids methane emissions from landfill.

“Many biofuels such as those from waste, have the potential to provide significant carbon reductions,” commented Transport Minister Sadiq Khan about today’s announcement. “The challenge is identifying and developing those biofuels that deliver the most environmental benefits. This is exactly what we are doing by leading the way in conducting research into biofuel sustainability and production.”

Pyrolysis could reduce carbon emissions by 95 per cent compared to fossil fuels
The Department for Transport and the Department of Energy and Climate Change are investing £7 million over the next three to four years into the consortium via the Carbon Trust, which believes pyrolysis could change the way biofuels are produced in the future. According to its own research, the Carbon Trust says the process could reduce carbon emissions by as much as 95 per cent compared to fossil fuels.

Tom Delay, chief executive of the Carbon Trust, said: “This unique consortium demonstrates the UK’s strength in a crucial low carbon technology and could lead the world in developing the cheapest and greenest of biofuels.”

First biofuel refinery pilot plant to be up and running by 2014
The aim of the consortium is to develop a network of mini 'biofuel refineries' sited near landfill sites and other waste sources across Britain by 2020. The first pyrolysis pilot plant is due to be up and running by 2014. It is thought using UK biomass alone the pilot plant could scale up production to over two million tonnes per year, generating a saving of seven million tonnes of carbon – the equivalent to the annual emissions of three million cars.

According to the Carbon Trust, pyrolysis not only potentially offers the lowest cost production route of any biofuel technology – between £0.30 and £0.48 per litre of diesel biofuel – but could also meet over half of the 2020 Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) by 2020. The RTFO already stipulates that forecourt petrol and diesel in the UK must include a 3.25 per cent blend of biofuel and by 2020 an EU directive will see this figure rise to 10 per cent. 

£500,000 grant to University of York to conduct research into 'microwave' pyrolysis
Alongside the Axion consortium, the Carbon Trust also announced today a £500,000 research grant for the University of York to conduct earlier-stage research and development into a process to use microwaves to pyrolyse waste, thereby offering greater energy efficiencies and potentially an oil of high enough quality to pure be used in vehicles on its own.

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Consortium gets Government backing to turn waste biomass into transport biofuel
Using pyrolysis to turn biomass waste into biofuel could reduce transport carbon emissions by 95 per cent compared to fossil fuels
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