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This page was published on 29/05/2007
Published: 29/05/2007

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Published: 29 May 2007  
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Biofuels to be processed by oil refineries

As a result of an increasing demand for biofuels, new processing routes for crude oil have had to be found. Over the next five years the BIOCOUP project, supported through the Commission’s Sixth Framework Programme for Research and Technical Development, will devise a series of steps that will allow biomass feedstock to be co-fed to a conventional oil refinery. In the future crude oil could be replaced in refinery units. Ideally, the use of biomass would be carefully phased in and produced together with traditional feedstocks so as not to disrupt the normal working of the refinery.

EU research seeks to run yesterday’s refineries on next-gen fuels.  © Luigi Chiesa
EU research seeks to run yesterday’s refineries on next-gen fuels.
© Luigi Chiesa
Bio-mass processing is highly innovative, resulting in the production of energy and oxygenated chemicals. This is the first time that the concept will be developed in its entirety and it takes into consideration all the relevant stages. Primary bio-liquids have an oxygen content of around 50% and cannot be refined in conventional refinery units. The de-oxygenation processes currently employed are expensive due to their high hydrogen consumption and costs. The project will therefore develop new integrated approaches to reduce the oxygen content.

A characteristic of the bio-liquids that are produced, compared to crude oil, is the high level of oxygenates which they contain. The project consortium will develop technologies to convert these bio-intermediates into valuable products through chemical processing and the production of industrial oxygenated chemicals.

The new processing route uses European biomass as feedstock, which will help to secure and increase the internal EU energy supply. It will also enhance the competitiveness of European industry by providing business opportunities. Jobs will be created for the whole value chain, from the initial biomass feedstock producers to the final end users. The project will develop renewable energy sources and promote in particular the use of lignin, a by-product of wood pulp production. BIOCOUP will also help to make a significant contribution to the reduction of CO2 emissions in the transportation sector through the efficient utilisation of biomass material.

The process begins with the procurement of bio-feedstocks, such as wood pulp, paper and food, from existing industries and the processing of upgraded biomass-derived liquids in existing mineral oil refineries. This enables a seamless integration of bio-refinery co-processing products to the end consumer for products such as transport fuels and chemicals. This will encourage the acceptance of biomass and further the technological development of biomass production routes. The process will also help reducing the production costs of biofuels.

According to the project’s coordinator Yrjö Solantausta, ‘There are good opportunities for both new companies because of new technologies being developed, and existing companies, because eventually the biorefinery will be integrated into existing industries.’

Further benefits are expected to include the market diversification for raw and agricultural products. The project will also help boost SME competitiveness by expanding their activities to wider markets, or developing within niche markets.

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