Chemrec AB opens BioDME pilot plant

By Bryan Sims | September 10, 2010

Swedish biofirm Chemrec AB held a grand opening ceremony for the completion of its new 500,000-gallon-per-year bio dimethyl ether (BioDME) pilot facility at the company’s development plant located at the Smurfit Kappa paper mill in Pitea, Sweden. The project broke ground in August 2009.

According to Chemrec, the overall scope of the project aims to demonstrate the feasibility of producing BioDME from forest residues using Chemrec’s black liquor gasification technology and fuel synthesis technology provided by Haldor Topsoe A/S. Black liquor is the fraction of wood pulp that remains after the cellulose fractions have been removed, and is largely composed of lignin.

Participants in the project include Swedish automaker Volvo, Swedish fuels company Preem, French oil and gas giant Total, and auto parts company Delphi. The Energy Technology Center, a local research institute, is also involved in the project. While Total is focused on the development of the fuel technology, the ETC has operated a black liquor gasification system built by Chemrec in Pitea since 2005. The ETC also monitored the performance of Chemrec’s smaller pilot plant, which is also located in Pitea .

BioDME produced from the new pilot plant will be used in 14 of Volvo’s specialty converted trucks using Delphi’s fuel injectors to test the use of DME as a transportation fuel. The fuel will be delivered to service stations built by Preem in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Pitea. As project coordinator, Volvo said it intends to contribute to the project by using BioDME in its vehicles for ongoing field tests between now and 2012. Operators of the vehicles include DHL, Green Cargo and Posten Logistics.

"An important milestone was achieved today brining BioDME closer to commercial deployment not only for the European Union but for the global biofuel market," said Kyriakos Maniatis, energy technologies and research coordinator at DG Energy of the European Commission. "This is also a major step forward for the EU Strategic Energy Technology Plan since a unique bioenergy value chain closely linking the pulp and paper industry and bioenergy has been fully deployed for the first time."

DME is typically used as a propellant in aerosols, or as a liquefied petroleum gas substitute. Due to its high cetane and low particulate emission properties, it also serves as an attractive alternative fuel for diesel engines. According to Chemrec, the global market potential for BioDME is approximately 30 million tons of diesel equivalents per year, enough to fuel 1 million heavy-duty trucks.

"Current emission limits for diesel engines in the U.S. and Europe are met without the use of particle filters or nitrogen oxide reduction catalysts," said Patrik Lownertz, Chemrec’s vice president of sales and marketing. Lownertz also noted that BioDME produced from forest biomass over black liquor achieves a 95 percent greenhouse gas reduction profile compared to traditional diesel made from petroleum.