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Converting biomass to clean diesel fuel: the commercialization of new technologies

Date: 2009-07-24 11:14:52.0
Author: Renewable Energy Institute International

Converting biomass to clean diesel fuel: the commercialization of new technologies

The Renewable Energy Institute International (REII), a non-profit organization, announced the formation of an alliance of industry, academic and government organizations to build a pilot demonstration plant in Toledo, Ohio for the efficient and economical conversion of waste biomass to clean, diesel fuel. 

This new alliance includes organizations from around the United States including Red Lion Bio-Energy, Pacific Renewable Fuels, Grace Davison, PACCAR, SolarTurbines/Caterpillar, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Desert Research Institute, Quanta Services, Worley Parsons, University of Toledo, Midwest Terminals/Port of Toledo, and other leading partners.

"REII's ultimate goal is to ensure that these technologies are reliable, efficient, economical and environmentally friendly," said Dr. Dennis Schuetzle, President of REII. "The project team assembled for this effort includes the best and brightest in their fields."

The demonstration plant, located near the Port of Toledo, will integrate and upgrade existing, next generation conversion processes that have been designed and validated at test sites in Sacramento and Toledo during the past two years. This demonstration plant will produce 350,000 gallons of no sulfur, high-cetane, clean diesel fuel per year with a high biomass to fuel energy conversion efficiency of 44%. Based upon a comprehensive life cycle analysis using Argonne National Labs' computer models, this production of diesel from biomass will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 89%, compared to petroleum derived fuels.

"It is imperative that the United States develop ways to produce fuels that can be used directly in the existing fuel infrastructure and with high fuel efficiency engines," said Dr. Schuetzle. "Unlike ethanol or bio-diesel, this 'synthetic' renewable diesel can be used in the existing transportation infrastructure without modification and therefore can dramatically reduce United States need for imported oil." This renewable, clean diesel has the potential to displace 74% of the diesel fuel used in the United States, using the waste biomass that is available today. The fuel will be used in diesel vehicles at the Port of Toledo and in diesel vehicles at other U.S. locations, reducing vehicle pollutant emissions by up to 40%.

The Toledo demonstration plant and research and development facilities at McClellan Park in California will be used in the long term to continually improve plant efficiencies and lower production costs. The plans are to begin deploying commercial-scale plants during 2011-12, each of which will have the capability of producing 5 - 42 million gallons of clean diesel fuel per year, depending upon the plant capacity and local availability of waste biomass. One of the first plants is planned for an industrial site in Gridley, California, where rice harvest waste, wood waste and other local biomass residues will be converted to diesel fuel and renewable electricity.

Enough waste biomass is generated each year to support thousands of these plants, distributed throughout the U.S. The successful deployment of these plants would result in the creation of hundreds of thousands of new U.S. jobs in manufacturing, research and development, and support industries. REII is coordinating their efforts with the Apollo Alliance, Chaired by Phil Angeledis, which has the objective of building a major clean and renewable energy industry in the U.S.

"This project has the long term potential to bring key manufacturing jobs back to the United States," said Alex Johnson, a key alliance partner and President of Red Lion Bio-Energy and Midwest Terminals of Toledo International who operates the Port of Toledo. "Our vision is to build a robust manufacturing capability in the Toledo/Lake Erie region for plant components that will be deployed in the U.S. and worldwide."

Funding support for this effort to date has been provided by private industry, the U.S. Department of Energy, Department of Defense, and other organizations. The REII Alliance recently applied to DOE for additional financial support under the American Recovery Act, and the upgrade of the Toledo demonstration plant is ready to commence immediately.

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