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VTT wins European innovation prize for a new bio-oil production technique

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland along with the energy company Fortum, engineering company Metso and forestry company UPM has developed a technique that enables the cogeneration of heating energy and bio-oil in the same power plant cost-effectively and sustainably. VTT's technique is based on combining pyrolysis and fluidised bed technology. Thanks to the new technique, bio-oil production volumes can be expected to increase considerably in the next few decades. VTT received an innovation award for the new technology. The award was distributed in December by the European Association for Research and Technology Organisations EARTO.

"The innovation prize brings up the long-term work that VTT has done in developing renewable energy sources. EARTO wants to reward innovations that have significant societal and economic impact. The prize indicates that we have been successful in this work," says Anne-Christine Ritschkoff, Executive Vice President, Strategic Research, VTT.

Bio-oil has for a long time been pegged as the successor of fossil fuels as our future source of energy. However, large-scale commercial use of bio-oil in heat generation requires a cost-effective production technique. The new technique patented by VTT enables a considerable cut in the production cost of bio-oil.

Fast pyrolysis involves heating biomass such as forest industry waste to a high temperature to form gas. When the gas is cooled, it condenses into liquid known as bio-oil. Combining the pyrolysis process with traditional fluidised bed boilers used in power plants brings a range of efficiency gains. Producing bio-oil with the new technique is cheaper than in a separate pyrolysis process. Bio-oil plants that are integrated into power plants are extremely energy-efficient, because the energy contained in the by-products of the pyrolysis process can be recovered in fluidised bed boilers. This is a significant improvement, because the by-products can contain as much as 40 per cent of the original biomass's energy. In turn, lost heat from the power plant can be used in the bio-oil production process. Cogeneration offers higher efficiency than separate production, and the investment and operating costs of the plant are lower than in separate production. The use of bio-oil has significant positive effects on the environment. By replacing fossil fuels with bio-oil in heat generation, carbon dioxide emissions can be cut by 70 per cent. Sulphur emissions are also considerably lower.

The technique is due to enter commercial production towards the end of 2013 when the energy company Fortum opens its new integrated bio-oil and heating plant in the city of Joensuu in Finland. The plant is designed to produce 50,000 tonnes of bio-oil per year. The volume is enough to cover the annual heating needs of 24,000 average-sized homes.

VTT is involved in European standardisation work to promote the commercialisation of the innovation. There are currently around 200 power plants in Europe and North America that could be converted to include a bio-oil plant. This would mean more than 10,000 new jobs in the forestry and logistics sectors, for example.


Contact: Anne-Christine Ritschkoff
VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland

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