thyssenkrupp Uhde’s Biomass gasification processes: An alternative hydrogen beneficiation pathway

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Schematic showing the processes required to produce biofuels from biomass

Established in South Africa in 1959, thyssenkrupp Uhde Africa is the local subsidiary of thyssenkrupp AG. Underpinned by a global footprint and local presence, the company is a market-leading technology, engineering, construction and service partner for industrial plants and systems. Its portfolio also includes patented chemical process technologies, for the production of green hydrogen, green ammonia and green methanol.

These leading-edge green technology solutions will play a fundamental role in supporting the global shift towards decarbonisation and the clean energy transition. An alternate decarbonisation pathway is the gasification of biomass, particularly in the production of biofuels such as biodiesel and biojetfuel. thyssenkrupp Uhde is part of the BioTfueL® project launched by a consortium of companies aimed at achieving the conversion of Lignocellulosic Biomass into high-quality advanced biofuels via an indirect thermochemical pathway while simultaneously ensuring minimum impact on the environment.

“This involves gasification which is the process of taking solids and transforming them into gas, producing synthetic gas and ultimately advanced biofuels such as bio diesel, sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and bio naphtha,” explains Nithesh Mohun, Senior Sales Engineer at thyssenkrupp Uhde South Africa.

The biofuels that are produced are free of sulphur, olefins, oxygenates and aromatics, making them suitable for use as drop-in fuels without the need to modify current infrastructure and vehicles or as a blend in all types of diesel and turbojet engines without the need for engine retrofits.  “The by-products of our gasification are also valuable,” adds Mohun. “The slag, for example, is used in road-building and fly ash in the cement industry.”

The gasification processes, which is based on the Uhde® proprietary PRENFLO technology can be used to gasify a variety of solids including coke, coal, brown coal, petroleum and plant-based matter i.e. biomass. Biomass includes material such as sugar cane off-cuts, grass, wood chips, straw, forest waste and energy crops. “Before introducing these solids or feedstock into our PRENFLO gasifier, which has a capacity of up to 1 200 megawatts, they have to be reduced into smaller particles,” explains Mohun. “The solid plant matter is first broken down to pebble size through a technology known as torrefaction before being milled to produce a powder-like substance which is then introduced to the gasifier.”

“Taking into consideration that the global narrative centres on decarbonisation and green hydrogen, the classification of gasification of biomass by some as green hydrogen is accurate,” notes Mohun. “Gasification, irrespective of the source material, even if plant based, still produces CO2 so it cannot be classified as green hydrogen.”

“By contrast, green hydrogen is produced by the electrolysis of water based on100% renewable feedstocks. Thus, biomass, together with the carbon capture process, can and should be viewed as a blue hydrogen solution especially when we introduce the gas treatment process to remove CO2. However, as the adoption of green hydrogen is still a few years away, gasification can be viewed as a transition technology.”

“Based on our Uhde® gasification process, we are able to design and implement optimised production solutions for the beneficiation of biomass. Our global footprint gives us access to a vast knowledge pool which, combined with a local presence and experience that spans more than six decades, perfectly positions us to offer end-to-end technology and service solutions,” concludes Mohun.

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