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World’s First Commercial SunFuel Development

Shell Deutschland Oil GmbH has acquired a minority equity stake in Choren Industries GmbH, Freiberg/Saxony. Shell’s commitment sets the stage for construction of the world’s first commercial facility to convert biomass into high-quality synthetic bio-fuel, already marketed by Choren as SunFuel. A 15,000 t/a plant is planned for the production of SunFuel. SunFuel is supported by carmakers such as Volkswagen and DaimlerChrysler because it can be used without modification in any diesel engine without compromising performance and with a substantial reduction in harmful emissions. Shell’s stake in Choren is still subject to approval by the German cartel authorities.

Choren Industries has developed its patented Carbo-V® Biomass-gasification process to become a leader in the field of converting biomass – such as woodchips – into ultra clean tar-free synthetic gas. This “syngas” can then be converted into synthetic bio-fuels using the same Shell Middle Distillate Synthesis (SMDS) technology that Shell has developed for Gas to Liquids production (conversion of natural gas into synthetic oil products). Shell is a leader in Gas to Liquids (GTL) technology with unparalleled operating experience in the first commercial GTL plant of its type at Bintulu Malaysia. The synthetic GTL Fuel produced is an important component of Shell’s market leading V-Power Diesel that is exclusively sold at Shell Retail stations in several markets including Germany.

“We believe that the leadership combination of both companies’ experience and complementary technologies will enable the construction and operation of the first medium-sized “Biomass to Liquids” (BTL) plant. This plant will be located at Choren’s premises in Freiberg and will pave the way towards more attractive large-scale plants" explained Rob Routs (Executive Director Downstream) from Shell.

The synthetic fuels made from biomass have identical composition to synthetic products derived from natural gas – yet they have the advantage of being sustainable and environmentally friendly because they are based on renewable feedstocks. BTL Fuel is as clear as water and virtually free of sulphur and aromatic substances. BTL Fuel’s ignition qualities (as measured by a very high cetane number) are excellent, thereby reducing noise and resulting in cleaner combustion than with conventional diesel. Greenhouse gas emissions from BTL Fuel are less than 10 per cent of those from fossil fuels. Moreover, BTL Fuel can either be used as a pure product or in a blend with conventional diesel fuel. Initially it will only be available in limited volumes until the technology progresses and larger plants can be built.

Tom Blades, CEO, Choren Industries said: “We are particularly pleased to have won over a partner with Shell’s FT (Fischer Tropsch) knowledge and clean fuel experience. It affirms our vision for the realization of large-scale production of biomass derived synthetic transport fuels that meet the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s mobile society but without further burdening the environment.”

According to Rob Routs: “In the next two to three decades, liquid fuels will continue to dominate the market. Climate protection measures will mean that the share accounted for by biofuels is set to increase. We want to proactively participate in this shift as part of our commitment to the concept of sustainable mobility and maintain our leadership in formulating advanced fuels.”

In 2003 Choren became the first company to demonstrably produce BTL Fuel outside of the laboratory environment. The unique Carbo-V® gasification technology is able to convert a broad spectrum of biomass feedstocks such as wood chips, straw or energy plants into a tar-free synthetic gas that may be converted into clean transport fuel using Fischer-Tropsch synthesis or alternatively for power generation.

Traditional bio-fuels such as RME (rapeseed oil methyl ester) and ethanol are first generation bio-fuels. They are made using the same parts of plants (rapeseed, grain or sugar cane crops) that are also used in food production. Competition between fuel and food for these crops has the potential to impact upon both availability and price. In contrast, biomass based BTL Fuel or ethanol produced from ligno-cellulose are second generation bio-fuels. These fuels are made by converting those parts of plants not used in food production. Hence farmers are able to satisfy the needs of both the food and fuels industry from the same land, thus significantly increasing yields per hectare whilst securing an additional source of revenue.

BTL Fuel provides Governments the opportunity to increase domestic energy security, create jobs in agriculture, develop renewable energy, and reduce (well-to-wheel) carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

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