New Process to Convert Waste to Petroleum

Wednesday, October 29, 2014 @ 12:10 PM gHale

There is now a fundamental process to produce raw materials and fuels using biomass and tires.

Sustainable refineries are under development where it is possible to produce fuels and raw materials providing an alternative to petroleum by using biomass and other waste materials like plastics and tires, said Martín Olazar, researcher in the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country’s Department of Chemical Engineering. Conical spouted beds are the key to the high energy efficiency of these refineries, he said.

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Olazar developed two lines, depending on the type of waste: One uses biomass; the other, plastics, tires and similar waste.

The first of the lines uses agricultural waste and biomass from forests. Olazar said 70 percent of the mass treated can end up converted into bio-oil, “which means that if we process a metric ton of biomass, we can obtain 700 liters of bio-oil.”

The basis of the process to produce bio-oils is flash pyrolysis.

“This is very rapid pyrolysis,” Olazar said. “We can produce it in 20 milliseconds at a low temperature (500 degrees) so high energy consumption is not required.”

During pyrolysis the biomass ends up degraded and researchers can rapidly extract the compounds produced, because if not “they start to react among themselves and produce things we are not interested in. That is why pyrolysis is so fast.” The compounds produced when the biomass degrades end up extracted, condensed and they are able to produce bio-oil, which can be a substitute for petroleum.

“It is a biological oil, so to speak,” Olazar said. The quality of bio-oil is lower than that of petroleum because unlike the latter the bio-oil contains oxygen so it needs treatment. Olazar said it can produce any petroleum by-product: Hydrogen, olefin derivatives, aromatics, etc.

He also said the bio-oil process is much more efficient than the biodiesel process.

“To produce biodiesel, a specific plant needs to be grown and a very small percentage of it is taken advantage of. Only 10 percent of the mass used is turned into biodiesel, whereas we use whole plant waste and obtain 70 percent.”

The reactor already has a patent and a pilot facility is in operation in collaboration with the IK4-IKERLAN research center. The promoters of the project are already planning to open a larger facility.

In addition to the biomass project, Olazar also designed another one to produce items like (or very similar to) the original ones using other waste like plastics and tires.

This project is efficient in the treatment of tires.

“When flash pyrolysis is carried out under specific conditions, we can produce some very interesting raw materials, like carbon black,” he said.

Carbon black is the main raw material used to make tires. In the sustainable refinery, the processing of used tires turns 30 percent of the waste into carbon black.

“A high enough percentage for it to be profitable,” Olazar said. Apart from carbon black, this solid has a whole host of applications as an adsorbent, as well. The (liquid) remainder can also end up used various other ways.

Olazar said one of the advantages of the system is it can operate continuously.

“It is a unique reactor in its class,” he said. “We have patented it and we want to start up a medium-sized unit.”

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