Successful field tests of vehicles powered by a biofuel derived from the black liquor wastes produced at a pulp mill have been conducted by Volvo Trucks.
The company said that ten of its specially adapted trucks have been operating on Swedish roads since last autumn.
According to Volvo Trucks – a part of Volvo AB (VOLVB: Stockholm) – the trucks look ant perform just as well as any other, but are powered by bio-DME, which reduces carbon emissions by 95% compared with diesel.
Bio-DME, dimethyl ether is a second generation biofuel produced from biomass, is a liquid, so-called second-generation biofuel that can be made from wood or by-products and waste from agricultural production.
According to Lars Mårtensson, environmental director at Volvo Trucks it could replace up to 50 per cent of the diesel that is currently being consumed by commercial vehicles in Europe within the next 20 years.
The field tests, which are being conducted in collaboration with companies including Swedish oil firm Preem and Chemrec, another Swedish company which is responsible for fuel production.
Power from Pulp Waste
Volvo said that the bio-DME that it is using in its field tests is made from black liquor, a by-product from the production of pulp. The black liquor is actually used in the flow of energy that powers the pulp mill, operated by Smurfit Kappa Kraftliner (LSE: SKG).
Chemrec’s process takes part of the black liquor, gasifies it – using a gasifier developed at the Energy Technology Centre in Pitea, Sweden – and turns it into usable fuel which the company said could be obtained at four filling stations in different parts of Sweden during the on-going field tests.
“Bio-DME is produced in three stages. After collecting the black liquor from the pulp mill, we convert it into gas using pure oxygen and thereby produce syngas, a gas that can be synthesised,” explained Ingvar Landalv, technical director at Chemrec.
“We wash the gas and then convert it to bio-DME. After that, the quality is checked and the fuel is transferred to a large tank near the mill for storage. The mill is then compensated with biomass known as forest slash, which is branches and the tops of trees that are left over when forests are cut down – a highly effective form of energy exchange,” Landalv added.
‘Soul fuel’ Showing Strong Results
With field tests now past the halfway point the company claimed that to date, drivers who have been operating the trucks in the field tests have reported that everything is as expected.
Test driver Yngve Holm has been transporting pulpwood in northern Sweden in a DME-adapted Volvo FH 440, and has reported a number of advantages, such as lower noise levels and improved environmental aspects.
“I can drive about 650 kilometres on one tank and the truck runs just as well as it does on any other fuel. It is actually much quieter, both internally and externally,” he said.
Holm has been participating in the field tests since last September and so far has driven 40,000 kilometres. He also said that he has been asked many questions about the new fuel.
“Many people are curious and want to know how it works. I usually say that it works really well. The most important thing is that we are doing something for the environment and the future and that’s good for the soul, as I see it.”
According to Chemrec’s Landaly, at the present time the project is only using 1% of the black liquor produced at the mill.
“If we can use our technology to convert all the black liquor to bio-DME, it would be able to power around 2500 trucks, so we envisage incredible potential,” he added. “The black liquor capacity in Sweden alone corresponds to about 20 mills like this one.”
Meanwhile, Volvo’s Martensson claimed that the project had demonstrated that the technology works in practice, both in terms of biofuel production of fuel and in terms of its use in operational trucks, and that the infrastructure with filling stations in different parts of Sweden works effectively.
Martensson added that there is now a clear-cut interest from countries including China, Russia and the U.S.
“The test results bode well for the future,” he concluded
According to Max Jonsson, managing director of Chemrec, the project has proven the technology, and the company is now focusing on industrialising the product together with the pulp industry both in Sweden and abroad
“To realise their true potential and help to create the conditions for a climate-neutral transport system, the rules for the second generation of biofuels need to be set,” said Jonsson.
“We have shown that the technology works. The ball is now in the decision-makers’ court. It is up to them to create the conditions for this kind of production,” he concluded.