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Biomass pyrolysis is the thermal decomposition of biomass in a non-oxidising environment to produce predominantly bio-char, pyrolysis liquid, and syngas.


Technology

What is it?

Biomass pyrolysis is the thermal decomposition of biomass in a non-oxidising environment to produce predominantly bio-char, pyrolysis liquid, and syngas. The composition is dependent on operating conditions and feedstock type. Catalyst choice alters the hydrogen yield in the gas component at different temperatures. When biomass-derived liquid reforming is employed, addition of steam or oxidation results in steam reforming and produces a stream of syngas.

Why is it important?

Biomass is plentiful, regenerative and removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, making this process carbon neutral. Coupling the process with CCUS has the potential to make it carbon negative. Simultaneous treatment of municipal waste is also possible.

Characteristics

  • Inputs: Biomass, water
  • By-products: Carbon dioxide, solid charcoal (biochar)
  • Operating temperature: >500°C
  • Energy efficiency: 35-50%

Benefits

  • With upgrading and stabilisation, the pyrolysis liquid can be used as a substitute for fossil fuels, or used for biomass-derived liquid reforming
  • Lower temperature requirements
  • Biochar can be used in biomass gasification, or used for fertilising agricultural soil

Limitations

  • Low thermal efficiency due to high moisture content of biomass that must be dried
  • Produces a significant amount of tar in product gas
  • Significant resource requirements to gather and transport biomass to plant for pyrolysis.
  • Produces carbon dioxide (CCUS required)
  • Note: The TRL of this technology varies based on feedstock: TRL 7-8 for woody biomass, and TRL 5-7 for municipal solid waste

RD&D priorities

  • Improve modelling and simulations of the heat, mass and momentum effects in conjunction with kinetics
  • Minimise pyrolysis oil formation and improve H2 production
  • Process miniaturisation and mobilisation (development of portable units)
  • Integrate renewable energy sources. For example, concentrated solar power can act as a thermal energy source for the process

Known active organisations

  • CSIRO
  • Curtin University
  • Monash University
  • Queensland University of Technology
  • The University of Adelaide
  • The University of Newcastle
  • The University of Queensland
  • The University of Western Australia

Other opportunities like this

  • Biogas is mixed with steam in the presence of a catalyst at high temperatures (~750°C) and moderate pressure to produce syngas.

  • Biomass gasification for hydrogen production involves the thermochemical conversion of biomass (such as crop and forest residues) with a controlled amount of steam and oxygen, to syngas at temperatures over ~700°C. This is followed by the water-gas shift reaction to increase the yield and concentration of hydrogen.

  • Biogas is reacted with steam and/or CO2 in a non-thermal plasma reactor integrating with a suitable catalyst to produce hydrogen rich syngas and/or liquid short chain oxygenates (e.g. MeOH).

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