Novel formula might see big boost for energy crops

Biofuel could become much more popular thanks to a new formulation that delivers improved efficiency and performance.

Designed to complement modern engines, second generation biomass-to-liquid fuel (BTL) is under test with leading car makers in Germany and France.

“Synthetic fuels such as BTL deliver cleaner burning properties and lower fuel consumption from modern engines including the high-performance units for powerful tractors,” said Hermann Knechtges from Nutringen University, Germany.

Double production

Produced from any biomass, from whole-crop to forest thinnings, BTL can be used to replace diesel or petrol and could allow farmers to double energy production per hectare, according to research. Fuel output from fermented whole-crop wheat can exceed 4000 litres/ha compared with an average 2000 litres/ha for grain bioethanol or up to 1500 litres/ha of biodiesel from oilseed rape.

The new fuel is also claimed to be better for the environment.

It can cut greenhouse gas emissions by between 60% and 90% compared with conventional diesel, judging by the results of a joint project by Volkswagen and DaimlerChrysler.

Hydrocarbon emissions are also cut by 90% and no sulphur is produced in the process.

One company leading BTL research is Choren Industries from Freiberg, Saxony.

“We already deliver small amounts of our patented SunFuel to Volkswagen, DaimlerChrysler and Renault and we have a few cars of our own running constantly on the fuel,” said Matthias Rudloff, a development engineer with Choren.

“Next year a 13,000t a year plant is going into production and another facility is planned.”

But production costs are higher, he admits.

“Standard diesel can be produced for about 45c/litre (31p/litre) and the mineral oil diesel tax here in Germany adds 47c (32p) to give the pump price.

Biodiesel costs about 50% more to produce and our SunFuel is slightly more expensive still.

We expect economies of scale to bring BTL production costs down to a point where our product will be cheaper than present biofuels.”

The company estimates an annual requirement for about 1m tonnes of biomass supplied from land within 60km of each unit.