European consortium pursues black liquor gasification

By Jerry W. Kram
A consortium of companies led by Swedish automaker Volvo initiated a project to demonstrate the feasibility of producing dimethyl ether (DME) from black liquor, a byproduct of pulp and paper production.

The €28 million ($38.7 million) BioDME project is being funded by consortium members, plus an €8 million ($11 million) contribution from the European Union Seven Framework Program and additional support from the Swedish Energy Agency. Members of the consortium include Chemrec, a producer of gasification systems for the pulp and paper industry; Preem AB, the largest oil company in Sweden; Delphi Diesel Systems, a provider of diesel fuel injection systems; Haldor Topsøe, a supplier of catalyst technology; Total, an international energy company; and the Energy Technology Center, a renewable fuels research and development organization in Piteå, Sweden.

DME is used as a propellant in aerosols, and can be used as a fuel or an additive for diesel fuel. Black liquor is the fraction of wood pulp remaining after the cellulose fractions have been removed, and is largely composed of lignin. The four-year BioDME project will test the feasibility of producing DME from black liquor and using it as a diesel fuel additive.

Chemrec and Haldor Topsøe will produce the DME in a specially built plant. Total will focus on the development of the fuel technology. The ETC has operated a black liquor gasification system built by Chemrec in Piteå since 2005 and will monitor the performance of the pilot plant during the project. Volvo will provide 14 specially converted trucks using Delphi's fuel injectors to test the use of DME as a fuel. The fuel will be delivered to service stations built by Preem in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Piteå. "Already one year ago, Volvo presented seven trucks that could all be operated carbon-dioxide-neutral," said Volvo Group Chief Executive Officer Leif Johansson. "The BioDME project is an example of what the next step could look like and illustrates the possibilities of producing renewable fuel on a major scale."