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The Dandelion Model: Two-Step Biofuels Technologies and the Emergence of Super-Refineries

Submitted by on October 24, 2012 – 12:01 pmNo Comment

by Jim Lane (Biofuels Digest)  Can local communities pyrolize their wastes and residues, to make renewable fuels and chemicals at biobased super-refineries?   Two-step processes could be the ticket to the future, according to an Iowa State team.

Imagine, for a moment, a biorefinery as large as an oil refinery – competing on equivalent scales, gaining comparable economic and tax incentives such as accelerated depreciation.

The problem? The impossibly high cost of sourcing sufficient biomass within, say, a 50-mile radius. After 50 miles or so – a little less, if small trucks are used, a little more if barges or rail are used — the economics of transporting raw biomass become impossible. Too much oxygen, too much water — the weight is a killer.

That’s one of the primary reasons why refineries in the bio-space rarely exceed 25 million gallons for projects based on agricultural residues, 50 million gallons for woody biomass, and 250 million gallons for waste or crop-based oils.

In turn, it’s a reason why biofuels have challenges in competing with fossil fuels on a gallon-for-gallon basis. It’s one of the reasons why technologies are so attractive when they focus on the production of dense supplies of raw material – for example, algae biofuels projects or solar fuels of the type that Joule is scaling up.

An interesting work-around that has gained currency in recent years has been the production of biofuels in what transport mavens call the hub-and-spoke system.

…In these scenarios, smaller biomass projects manufacture refinery intermediates rather than finished fuels. They are then shipped in a highly densified form to massive refineries where they are converted to finished fuels and chemicals.

…Well, if you can support of 25 million gallon cellulosic biomass project over, say, a 50 mile radius – then a 500 mile radius would support a 2.5 billion gallon project. Densify the production of biomass by producing, say, high-volume energy crops or algae biomass – and that’s the kind of scenario that could result in a million barrel per day biorefinery.    READ MORE and MORE (Advanced Biofuels USA) and MORE (Science Business)

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