In Denmark the world’s first biomass-based plant to produce a sustainable marine fuel


Port of Frederikshavn (Denmark)
Port of Frederikshavn (Denmark)

The Port of Frederikshavn, in Denmark, and Steeper Energy, a Danish specialist energy project and technology development company , along with Aalborg University has entered into a partnership to establish the world’s first biomass-based plant to produce a sustainable marine fuel. The plant will produce sulphur-free fully renewable fuel for the several thousand vessels passing through the port annually. A new zero-tolerance law on sulphur content as well as the general acceptance that every part of society must do its part for climate change are the keys for success, according to the consortium.

“Based on our research plant at Aalborg University and on-going project activities of Steeper Energy to establish a pilot-scale plant in Alberta, Canada, the technical challenges and risk involved in a plant in Frederikshavn will be significantly reduced, paving the way for a full scale commercial plant in Denmark”, says Lasse Rosendahl, professor at Aalborg University, Department of Energy Technology.

A new regulative effectively reducing the permissible sulphur content in marine fuel to zero be come into effect as of January 1, 2015, in what is known as SECA regions – Sox Emission Control Areas. This will force fleet operators in regions such as the North Sea and the Baltic Sea to either install flue gas cleaning equipment on board, or switch to a sulphur-free fuel. With current options this corresponds to annual expenditure increases of several hundred million euros.

According to Ceo at the Port of Frederikshavn, Mikkel Seedorf Sørensen, the port could potentially serve a marine fuel market of at least 900,000 tons a year.

“This will not only be significant for the future customers to the sustainable marine fuel, but will also create jobs and bring more traffic into the port”, says Mikkel Sørensen. “Some 100,000 vessels annually pass the strait around Skagen either south- or northbound, and several of these will seize the opportunity to acquire sulphur-free fuel here”. He emphasizes, that the new fuel will be a drop-in fuel, and thus be able to mix into what may be in the tanks already.

The size of the plant is initially set at around 50-100,000 tons fuel annually, and will only cover a part of the potential market. To produce this, some 2-3 times as much wood will be sourced from locations such as Russia, the Baltic nations, Sweden, Finland or even Canada. This will be brought to the port by ship, making use of already existing biomass handling facilities at the port.

In the longer term a research effort will be directed at mixing in locally sourced feedstocks, such as short rotation coppice, manure and straw etc. This will be carried out at the research plant at Aalborg University, where the consequences of mixing feedstocks on product quality and operating conditions will be analysed before implementing this in full scale.

“Although the project will be established on a single feedstock, the plant design will accommodate the results of the research at Aalborg University. However, by building a solid business case on wood, we can focus on establishing a well functioning plant delivering a sustainable marine biofuel. Once this has been achieved, we can start thinking about extending the input range as well as considering a wider product portfolio, if this seems opportune”, says CTO at Steeper Energy, Steen B. Iversen.

At this stage the project is still in an initial phase, where the main focus is to establish a well-founded business case and feasibility study. The next stage will involve seeking investors and partners for the engineering stage.

At the Port of Frederikshavn Havn, the prospects are considered very positive. “It will be a major achievement to use waste materials from forestry or paper-pulp industry to produce something which will certainly be a part of the transformation of the marine sector a more sustainable operation. In a longer term perspective, probably also other means of transport. Today approximately 90 million barrels of fuel are used daily – of these, about 11 million barrels for marine and aerial transport”, says Mikkel Sørensen.

“With the flexibility and efficiency we have seen and demonstrated with the hydrothermal liquefaction technology in the lab it is a good candidate for an extremely resource efficient way of utilizing the limited global biomass resource. In the long term it will not only be able to contribute in a very significant way to providing sustainable fuels to the transport sector at a global scale, but also to production of valuable platform chemicals previously produced from fossil sources”, says Lasse Rosendahl.

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