Wood waste-derived marine biofuel project under way

Aston University is working on a project to help produce sustainable biofuels for marine diesel engines.

As part of the ReShip project, a three-year endeavour funded with £321,000 from Norwegian industry partners and the Research Council of Norway, Aston will use its expertise in fast pyrolysis to develop alternative fuels for the shipping industry which – on a regional basis – is expected to adhere to new sulphur and carbon emissions regulations from 2015.

ReShip aims to develop pyrolysis oil-based multicomponent fuel that meets the performance requirements of marine diesel engines. It involves taking low quality wood waste left over from logging to produce new biofuels via fast pyrolysis, a process in which a material is heated in the absence of oxygen. The process converts the wood into crude pyrolysis oil but compared to petroleum-based oil, crude pyrolysis oil is unstable and can’t be used for direct use in diesel engines. 

Led by Prof Tony Bridgwater, the Aston team will look to stabilise pyrolysis biofuel through mild, rapid, low temperature catalytic hydrogen treatment.

In cooperation with Norway’s Paper and Fibre Research Institute, they will also seek to blend the bio-oil with conventional diesel and surfactant to form a multi-component fuel. The most promising fuels will then be engine tested to assess their quality and use for potential marine transport. 

‘There are two main ways of going ahead,’ Prof Bridgwater told The Engineer. ‘One is to produce a fuel based entirely on biofuels, which have very low sulphur. There’s also [the] possibility of adding a hydrocarbon fuel as well. You’d think in terms of diesel but most of the heavy fuel oils can probably be used.

‘Part of the research is look at the extent to which conventional fossil-based transport fuels can be added to the blend [but] we don’t know that yet. We know you can do it with diesel, so if you do it with diesel you can almost certainly do to other fuels but we don’t know the limits on the concentrations.’

Aston will be involved in every stage of the process, from sourcing raw materials through to fast pyrolysis, blending and utilisation in engines. Prof Bridgwater hopes the project will lead to large-scale biofuel production by 2020.