The Carbon Trust has created a consortium of British businesses led by Axion Energy to pioneer the development of a commercially viable process to turn municipal and wood waste into transport biofuel.

The consortium will work on the enhancement of pyrolysis to process waste biomass to produce an alternative to existing biofuels at mass scale, to blend with fossil fuels.

A key advantage of developing a process that will use existing organic waste, rather than plant crops, is that it overcomes many of the issues associated with some current biofuels, and can lead to greater carbon savings by avoiding methane emissions from landfill.

Carbon Trust analysis shows that the carbon footprint of this new pyrolysis biofuel could potentially achieve a carbon saving of 95 per cent when compared to fossil fuels. According to the E4Tech Report, commissioned by the Carbon Trust in 2009, this is a significantly higher carbon saving than some existing biofuels, which also do not currently factor in the impacts of land use change when calculating the carbon saving.

The consortium aims to produce its first biofuel from a pilot plant in 2014 and there is potential using UK biomass to scale production to more than two million tonnes per year. According to the Carbon Trust, this will generate a saving of seven million tonnes of carbon, which is the equivalent to the annual emissions of three million cars.

UK legislation, the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), already stipulates that forecourt petrol and diesel 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.

Pyrolysis, which decomposes organic matter by heating without oxygen, 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 more than half of the 2020 RTFO target.

‘Genuinely sustainable biofuels will be critical to help reduce the UK’s transport emissions,’ said Tom Delay, chief executive of the Carbon Trust. ‘By developing a method that overcomes the issues associated with some existing biofuels, the UK has a vital role to play.

‘In just a few years pyrolysis could change the way in which we produce biofuels and by 2020 be a commercially viable option. Within a decade we could see a network of mini biofuel refineries sited near landfill sites and other waste sources across Britain.’

The Carbon Trust is investing £7m over three to four years into the consortium using funding from the Department for Transport and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

The consortium, which comprises Axion Energy, Catal International, CARE and Aquafuels Research, includes complementary technical capabilities spanning the complete pyrolysis-to-fuel supply chain.