Flexible and Sustainable Process to Convert Biomass Into DME: the FLEDGED Project

The Horizon 2020 FLEDGED project aims at producing DME (Flexible Dimethyl Ether) from biomass with an efficient and low-cost process.

CO2 emissions reduction in the transportation sector is one of the main pillars of the environmental policies of the European Union. Fuels production from biomass or waste is one of the most promising solutions to meet the targets, in particular considering the short-term horizon where alternatives such electric and hydrogen mobility still require significant development of the infrastructure. Moreover, it is difficult to overtake the dependency of some sectors on liquid fuels, such as in case of aviation, shipping and long haul trucking-based transport.

The FLEDGED Horizon 2020 European Project (FLExible Dimethyl ether production from biomass Gasification with sorption enhancED processes) addresses the integration of flexible and efficient Sorption-Enhanced processes for the conversion of second generation biomass (forestry biomass, agricultural residues, waste derived fuel, etc…) to Dimethyl Ether (DME). DME has properties similar to LPG and it is a promising substitute of Diesel for automotive and heavy duty transportation, requiring minor changes in the engines and allowing energy efficient propulsion with a soot-free combustion. Important vehicle manufacturers are leading the way investigating this solution for both light- and heavy-duty solutions.

FLEDGED project concept: from biomass to biofuels through flexible and integrated sorption-enhanced processes.
FLEDGED project concept: from biomass to biofuels through flexible and integrated sorption-enhanced processes.

The objective of the project is to develop technologies leading to process intensification and potential cost reduction of the biomass-to-DME conversion process. In the Sorption-Enhanced gasification process (biomass conversion into syngas), a calcium-based sorbent is used to remove carbon in-situ and achieve syngas composition tailored for the downstream DME synthesis. In the sorption enhanced DME synthesis (SEDMES) process, a sorbent is admixed to the catalyst for in-situ water removal, overcoming the thermodynamic limit of the DME production reaction and leading to high DME yield with no need of unconverted gas recirculation. In between the SEG and the SEDMES processes, conventional syngas cleaning processes are used to remove tar and trace compounds and achieve the required purity specification of for the DME synthesis catalyst. These two technologies are being tested in laboratory experimental facilities for demonstration up to TRL5. Modelling tools are also being developed for process simulation and optimization, economic, risk and sustainability analyses of the complete integrated FLEDGED plant.

Flexibility objectives of the FLEDGED project concept: feedstock diversification, Power-to-fuel and Bio-CCS.
Flexibility objectives of the FLEDGED project concept: feedstock diversification, Power-to-fuel and Bio-CCS.

Additional objectives of the project are aimed at demonstrating the plant flexibility. The fluidized bed gasification system coupled with the sorption-enhanced concept can convert with different feedstocks, from lignocellulosic biomass to residual municipal waste. In addition, the process can be also coupled with an electrolysis system, balancing the electrical grid while producing hydrogen and efficiently converting non-dispatchable renewable energy into a liquid fuel. Moreover, the biomass-originated carbon dioxide may be removed in the SEG process through the use of high purity oxygen and be permanently stored in geologic sites, resulting in a negative CO2 emissions system (Bio-CCS).

About FLEDGED project

A consortium of leading international companies, universities and research institutions coordinated by Politecnico di Milano is contributing to the FLEDGED project. Technical-scientific universities and research partners provide R&D competences in experimental testing, component modelling and materials development. Flexible SEG process is being developed through experimental tests by University of Stuttgart and CSIC-ICB and component modelling by Lappeenranta University. SEDMES process is being developed through experimental tests by ECN part of TNO and CSIC-ICP and component modelling by POLIMI and ECN part of TNO. Overall and comprehensive system analysis will be ensured through process integration and economic analysis by POLIMI, SHI-FW, Frames, and Ecohispanica. Risk, sustainability and socio-economic analyses are addressed by INERIS, by QUANTIS.

The FLEDGED project has a total duration of 4 years (2016-2020) and it is financed by the Horizon 2020 programme of the European Union, with a budget of about 5’300’000 €.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement N° 727600.

Text provided by Giulio Guandalini and Matteo C. Romano, Energy Department, Politecnico di Milano.

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