World’s first cellulose biodiesel plant opens

German newspaper Der Spiegel reports that a German company has started producing an advanced fuel made from wood and other non-food biomass.

The facility is fairly small and its production will also be fairly modest, just 13,500 metric tonnes of diesel fuel a year as compared with Germany’s annual consumption of 30 million tonnes. Still, this tiny refinery in the eastern German town of Freiberg has managed to attract a number of highly prominent visitors, including the CEOs and leading researchers of both Mercedes and Volkswagen. The grand opening on Thursday (today) will be attended by top managers from Shell as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The small cluster of concrete silos, combustion chambers and catalysers owned by Choren Industries is the only facility of its kind in the world that is designed to turn wood into fuel for cars, the so-called ‘second generation’ biofuels.

The plant in Freiberg uses non-food biomass instead of traditional crops and is the first of its kind to cross the threshold from theoretical research into industrial production. This advanced refinery was designed to furnish proof that the new fuels are feasible, and can be produced on a much larger scale.

Instead of sugar beets and rapeseed, the new plant processes wood as its raw material. In a pinch, it can also use straw. Using these materials significantly increases the yields from cultivated areas. According to estimates provided by the German Agency for Renewable Resources (FNR), the annual energy yields using the Choren process, based on a Central European climate, are 4,000 litres of fuel per hectare, which is up to three times as much as previous biofuel production methods. What’s more, in contrast to production methods using rapeseed oil and ethanol, this technique does not produce fuel of inferior quality. Choren manufactures extremely pure diesel with virtually no sulphur. Moreover, these second generation biofuels do not harm particle filters or engines and meet top emissions standards.

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