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Total's BioTfuel project: designing the fuels of tomorrow

14 Dec 2015 | A region on the move, Advanced Materials

In Dunkerque, Total is designing, testing and refining production technologies for second-generation biofuels—a promising environmental initiative that is the only one of its kind in France.

Developing second-generation biofuels

In Dunkerque, Total and its five partners have launched the BioTfuel project, an ambitious €180 million effort to produce second-generation biodiesel and bio-jet fuel. A demonstrator plant, now under construction on the site of the former Flandres Refinery and set to begin operating in late 2016, will test and improve technologies for producing biofuel from lignocellulosic biomass such as straw, forest waste and dedicated energy crops. Once the technology has been approved for industrial use, the partners hope to convert 1 million metric tons of biomass into 200,000 metric tons of biodiesel and bio-jet fuel annually by 2020.

BioTfuel could reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 90% relative to fossil fuels. Its output is made exclusively from non-edible raw materials—a major advantage that opens up a wide range of resources.

Four-step process

  1. The biomass is dried, ground and torrefied at a Compiègne facility operated by Avril, a BioTfuel consortium member. And this torrefaction process is a key technological challenge, since there are very few high-capacity industrial applications in existence today, and none able to generate output that can be used in a gasifier.
  2. The resulting powder is transferred to a Total site near Dunkerque, where a gasifier converts it into syngas by bringing it to an extremely high temperature (1,200-1,600°C), in the presence of a small quantity of oxygen.
  3. The syngas must be cleaned and purified—another process that has never been implemented at industrial scale, due to the purity level required for the final step.
  4. Final conversion to biofuel is achieved through Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, a well-established process.

The resulting products will be similar to fossil fuels, without oxygen or esters, and they will be usable in all types of diesel and jet engines.

Total and its partners cover the entire production chain, from R&D to market and from field to engine—a truly strategic alliance.

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