From the Process Engineering To the Biorefinery


What are biofuels ?

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Biofuel : It is a common name for fuels that have been created from renewable sources and is generally associated with liquid fuels

Biomass : This is another common name for fuels that have been created from renewable sources and is often associated with solid fuels

Renewable fuels : This is a liquid, a solid or a gaseous material that have been derived from renewable energy sources into a form that makes them easier to transport to their point of use

Renewable energy : This is the common name for all types of energy derived from nature. This includes wind energy, wave energy, solar energy, biomass, biogas and biofuels.

Biogas : This is a gaseous material created using natural processes, such as decomposition of waste that produces methane. This methane can be captured and used to generate heat and power.

Liquid renewable fuels : Can be derived from many sources. There are two common types available. These are biodiesel and bioethanol, other types of liquid renewable fuels include synthetic biofuels. It is also possible to consider more basic liquid biofuels, such as vegetable oil.

Biodiesel : This is the common name for a specific liquid renewable fuel; Fatty Acid Methyl Esther (FAME). FAME is made by reacting vegetable oil with methanol in the presence of a catalyst.

Bioethanol : This is both the common name and specific name for a fuel that is similar in nature to petrol and is referred to as a gasoline substitute because of this similarity. Ethanol for fuel use is made by fermenting a biomass material, which is typically a high starch content material, like wheat.

Vegetable oil : Can be used directly as a fuel, but it not ideally suited to this use. Once a vegetable oil has been used for cooking it can still be used to make FAME, though it requires much more careful quality control in order to meet the fuel standard.

Synthetic biofuels : Can be made from a much broader range of renewable materials but are processed in a much more intensive industrial process. In this way, a very high quality diesel type fuel can be produced, which is sometimes known as biomass-to-liquid or BTL fuel.

What is important about biofuels?

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  • Climate change is upon us so we need to reduce carbon emissions now! Biofuels can help reduce the carbon emissions from road transport as renewable feedstock absorbs carbon during its growth phase.
  • The precise amount of carbon that is saved varies depending on the feedstock and the supply chain.
  • Also, where it is possible to use waste materials, the carbon benefits can be very significant.
  • According to data recently published by the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, the production of bioethanol from wheat can save between 5% and 85% carbon emissions.
  • Similar work by Northeast Biofuels shows that production of biodiesel from Oil Seed Rape can save up to 94%.
  • While there is increasing international awareness of the impact of de-forestation in various parts of the world, the UK and North East England are leading the way in developing standards to measure the sustainability of fuels.
  • Finally, having considered carbon savings as well as broader sustainability, it is important that biofuels are compatible with the vehicles that we drive.
  • For this reason, fuel standards have been implemented for biodiesel and are being proposed for bioethanol to ensure the biofuels we make can be freely interchanged with the fossil fuels we have been using for decades.

What resources & skills are needed?

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  • The raw material resources required can come from many sources.
  • For biodiesel these include a wide range of vegetable oils, many of them being edible oils like palm, rape, sunflower, and soya as well as some non-edible oils like Jetropha.
  • These oils consist of various fatty acid chains and are processed in a relatively simple chemical reaction to produce Fatty Acid Methyl Esters (FAME).
  • For bioethanol production requires raw materials that can be converted by fermentation into ethanol, these include wheat, sugar cane and sugar beet.
  • The processing technology is relatively simple when compared to some of the complex processes that exist in other process sectors.
  • The reactions are relatively simple to control at large scale, using reactor vessels and then a series of product cleaning and conditioning stages to achieve a high quality road transport fuel.
  • Processing efficiencies are high as are the levels of automation.
  • Product quality control is assessed using laboratory analysis techniques to demonstrate compliance with the fuel standards.
  • Processing technology is available as package units from a number of international technology providers.
  • However, these require some level of engineering design in order to ensure the equipment is consistent with the local legislation and practices.
  • There is some room for process development as well as a broad range of engineering skills, including civil, electrical, mechanical, control and instrumentation.
  • In addition to the engineering skills required to design and build the units, operational personnel include a range of skilled process and maintenance technicians as well as a range of operational management skills, including health and safety and other typical process industry skill sets.
  • There are also a range of commercial operations roles, including logistics of road, rail and sea-borne transport.

1st generation (2010) [+...]