In an EU-funded research project, an international consortium aims to develop new production methods for sustainable marine fuels to replace heavy fuel oils in shipping. The use of heavy fuel oils (HFOs) contributes to global warming due to the fossil origin of these fuels and, moreover, generating non-negligible emissions of pollutants such as sulphur oxides. The IDEALFUEL project aims to create sustainable alternatives by developing new efficient and low-cost methods to produce low-sulphur heavy fuel oils from wood-based non-food biomass. OWI Science for Fuels gGmbH and TEC4FUELS GmbH are involved in the project as research partners.
Although cleaner fuels are available, many companies opt for HFOs due to their low cost. However, HFOs are banned in the national waters of many countries. In addition, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is seeking to ban their use in Arctic waters. Due to environmental concerns and national as well as international regulations associated with fossil based HFOs, there is a considerable need for cleaner, renewable and economic alternatives for the maritime industry.
Lignin is the key
IDEALFUEL aims to develop methods to convert woody residual and waste materials such as sawdust and wood chips into renewable marine fuels. The concept describes the conversion of lignin – the polymer found in the structural materials of plants and trees – from dry plant matter (otherwise known as lignocellulosic biomass) into renewable fuels.
To achieve this goal, the IDEALFUEL consortium plans to devise an efficient and cost-effective two-step chemical process. In the first step, lignin is extracted from lignocellulosic biomass in the form of Crude Lignin Oil (CLO), leaving behind a solid cellulose material that can be used in the paper industry or converted into ethanol. In the second step, the CLO is refined through a low-temperature hydrodeoxygenation process into a Biogenic Heavy Fuel (Bio-HFO) that can be used in combination with traditional fossil fuels in a fuel blend.
The research tasks of OWI Science for Fuels and TEC4FUELS focus on the quality assurance of the new fuel, especially with regard to the operational safety of the engines. To this end, they are investigating and evaluating the chemical-physical properties of the Bio-HFO for marine applications, the compatibility of this lignin-based fuel with marine engines, the storage life and ageing behaviour of the fuel, its compatibility with fuel-bearing materials and components, and the engine oil. Finally, health, environmental and safety aspects are also part of the investigation.
In IDEALFUEL, researchers and industry work together on issues along the entire value chain – from CLO to end user. IDEALFUEL is coordinated by Eindhoven University of Technology and involves participants from four countries. The participants are Vertoro B.V. (NL), Tec4Fuels GmbH (DE), Bloom Biorenewables Ltd (CH), Uniresearch B.V. (NL), Winterthur Gas & Diesel Ltd. (CH), GoodFuels (NL), thyssenkrupp Marine Systems GmbH (DE), OWI Science for Fuels gGmbH (DE), Agencia Estatal Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (Spanish Research Council, CSIC) (ES) and Varo Energy Netherlands B.V. (NL).