Chemrec, NewPage form biomass-to-biofuels venture

By Bryan Sims
Sweden-based Chemrec AB and Ohio-based NewPage Corp. have formed a partnership to explore the feasibility of developing a facility that would produce renewable biomass-based fuels at NewPage's paper mill in Escanaba, Mich.

According to NewPage spokesman Kel Smyth, both parties are currently in the "pre-feasibility" stage of the project that would employ Chemrec's black liquor gasification (BLG) technology, which converts the black liquor waste stream from the paper pulping process into synthesis gas, or syngas. The syngas could then be processed into a variety of fuels such as dimethyl ether and methanol. Fuels such as Fischer-Tropsch diesel, synthetic natural gas and hydrogen are also being considered. Once the feasibility stage identifies standards set by both companies, the project would begin an approximately two-year construction phase at NewPage's mill site.

Smyth noted that both parties would know whether the project would officially be moving forward by late next year. "Part of what we're doing is figuring out both what we can make and what we can market [using Chemrec's BLG technology]," he said.

The basic Chemrec approach is to replace (or supplement in small installations) a pulp mill recovery boiler with a high-temperature gasifier. The syngas can be used for power generation or, with additional processing units, be converted to biofuels. The new project is expected to produce about 13 MMgy of liquid biofuels, according to Smyth.

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm announced the Chemrec/NewPage partnership in Sweden in August, following a reception with company and government leaders celebrating the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the two companies.

Earlier this year, the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and NextEnergy, Michigan's alternative energy accelerator in Detroit, established a cellulosic biofuels working group dedicated to crafting a strategy for the development of the industry in the state.