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Many ships use heavy fuel oils that contain large amounts of sulphur and nitrogen which end up emitting greenhouse gases and other damaging substances. The TU/e-led consortium Idealfuel seeks to address this issue by developing new, efficient, and low-cost methods to produce low-sulphur heavy fuel oils from wood-based non-food biomass. The project has received a €5 million grant from the European Union’s Horizon2020 program. Keyword in this international project: lignin.

More on the use of lignin here

Ships are crucial for the transportation of goods around the world. However, many ships operate on heavy fuel oils (HFOs), leading to the emission of pollutants into the world’s oceans and atmosphere. 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 Organization (IMO) are seeking to ban their use in Arctic waters. Due to the environmental concerns and the national and international regulations associated with HFOs, there is a considerable need for low-cost, cleaner, and renewable alternatives to HFOs for the maritime industry. This is the problem that the Idealfuel consortium is set to address.

Sawdust and wood chips

Idealfuel is aiming to develop methods to convert woody materials such as sawdust and wood chips into renewable marine fuels. Their approach revolves around 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. Leading the project of 11 participants who are based in the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain is Dr. Roy Hermanns of the Mechanical Engineering department at TU Eindhoven.

The role of Vertoro is key in this project

Idealfuel plans to devise an efficient and low-cost two-step chemical process in order to achieve its goal. In the first step, lignin is extracted from lignocellulosic biomass in the form of Crude Lignin Oil (CLO). This leaves behind a solid cellulose material that can be used in the paper industry or even converted into ethanol. In the second step, the CLO is refined and converted into a Biogenic Heavy Fuel (Bio-HFO). That can be used in combination with a fule blend with traditional fossil fuels or even in its pure form in the engines of the world’s maritime fleet.

The collaboration

Idealfuel is a broad collaboration originating from the complete value chain. Idealfuel is being coordinated by TU Eindhoven and involves participants from four EU countries: Vertoro B.V. (NL), Tec4Fuels GmbH (DE), BLOOM Biorenewables Sarl (CH), Uniresearch B.V. (NL), Winterthur Gas & Diesel Ltd. (CH), SeaNRG (NL), ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems GmbH (DE), OWI Oel-Waerme-Institut GmbH (DE), Agenica Estatal Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (ES), and Varo Energy Netherlands B.V. (NL).