The chemicals and transportation fuel sectors are facing multiple challenges: reducing their dependence on petroleum resources with cost competitive solutions and addressing today’s environmental concerns – sustainability and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Today we are proud to bring you a new and exclusive white paper from Axens – Solutions for More Sustainable Transportation Fuels and Chemicals. And to introduce it, our Editor Luke Upton, sat down with one of the White Paper authors Frédéric Balligand of Axens to discuss their work in this area, commercialisation and growth.
Luke Upton (LU): Thank you for the time today Frédéric. I understand Axens is very active in bio-fuels and bio-based chemicals. Could you tell us more about the company you work for and what your focus is within renewables please?
Frederic Balligand (FB): Axens provides a complete range of solutions for the conversion of oil and biomass to cleaner fuels, the production and purification of major petrochemical intermediates as well natural gas treatment and conversion options. The offering includes technologies, equipment, furnaces, modular units, catalysts, adsorbents and related services. Axens is ideally positioned to cover the entire value chain, from feasibility study to unit start-up and follow-up throughout the entire unit cycle life. This unique position ensures the highest level of performance with a reduced environmental footprint.
Our technology portfolio for the production of biofuels and bio-sourced chemicals includes cellulosic ethanol production via the Futurol technology. Combining this technology with the Atol process lead to the production of bio-ethylene through the ethanol dehydration. Also part of the Axens’ offer is the Vegan technology for the production of renewable jet-fuel and diesel via lipid hydroprocessing. In addition, Axens participates in several projects including BioTfueL for the production of biojet and diesel from cellulosic feedstocks, BioButterfly for the production of biobutadiene and renewable aromatics via the Anellotech partnership.
LU: Very informative, thank you! What is your view on the current state of the biofuel market and how does Futurol fit into the equation in this context?
FB: When I look at the various national biofuel policies, such as the RFS (Renewable Fuel Standard) in the US and Renewable Energy Directive (known as RED II) in Europe, the second generation biofuel market is expected to grow substantially over the coming years. We see these policies as positive, particularly RED II, which confirms the importance of sustainably produced advanced biofuels such as second generation ethanol to achieving EU climate goals. If we focus on cellulosic ethanol produced from biomass residues, it has two major advantages: firstly, it is produced from non-food crops, so it doesn’t affect food security, and secondly, it reduces 90% of GHG emissions compared to fossil gasoline, which is crucial to curb GHG emissions from transport. 11 partners have developed Futurol, a technology using second generation biomass, which is now commercialised by Axens.
LU: Could you tell us more about this technology and its main advantages?
FB: Futurol converts residual biomass (such as straw, woodchips and residues from other industries) into ethanol. It is a simple 4-step integrated process, which starts with the standardisation of the biomass through a pre-treatment. Here, any biomass fed into the unit will look like the same at the outlet, and this is the key to our flexibility. We have worked extensively on wheat straw, miscanthus and poplar, and extended with a wide range of biomass so as to validate the adaptability of the technology, making Futurol the most flexible solution on the market today. Once pre-treated, this biomass is ready to be transformed into ethanol through enzymatic hydrolysis and fermentation. Since cost-competitiveness is vital, the pre-treated biomass can be used to locally produce the biocatalysts for the conversion step. In this way, we also ensure maximum ethanol yield. The final step consists in product separation and is of great importance to ensure an optimal integration and energy self-sufficiency of the process.
Watch the video interview on Futurol
LU: How about the commercialisation of Futurol? Where do you stand today?
FB: After eight years of research and continuous innovation, Futurol is most definitely the best option in the market today. The technology has been successfully proven at pilot and semi-industrial scales, the largest ever pre-treatment unit built in the world. These assets, located respectively in Pomacle-Bazancourt and Bucy-le-Long – France, were key to launching effectively the process technology worldwide. Now, according to the International Energy Agency, transport biofuel consumption is not on track to meet the Sustainable Development Scenario. A 10% growth per year is needed until 2030 to bring it into line and this huge growth has to be provided by advanced biofuels such as ethanol from Futurol. We, at Axens, are committed to the Energy Transition and are well on the way to fulfilling this need. Futurol is not only a breakthrough technology, it is the platform for next-generation renewable chemicals. A myriad of molecules can be derived from Futurol and that is the key to striving towards a sustainable environment.
LU: That’s great, thanks Frederic. For more information on Axens work in this area, download the white paper now.