Techno-economic assessment and uncertainty analysis of thermochemical processes for second generation biofuels

  • Ioanna Dimitriou

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Biomass-To-Liquid (BTL) is one of the most promising low carbon processes available to support the expanding transportation sector. This multi-step process produces hydrocarbon fuels from biomass, the so-called “second generation biofuels” that, unlike first generation biofuels, have the ability to make use of a wider range of biomass feedstock than just plant oils and sugar/starch components. A BTL process based on gasification has yet to be commercialized. This work focuses on the techno-economic feasibility of nine BTL plants. The scope was limited to hydrocarbon products as these can be readily incorporated and integrated into conventional markets and supply chains. The evaluated BTL systems were based on pressurised oxygen gasification of wood
biomass or bio-oil and they were characterised by different fuel synthesis processes including: Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, the Methanol to Gasoline (MTG) process and the Topsoe Integrated Gasoline (TIGAS) synthesis. This was the first time that these three fuel
synthesis technologies were compared in a single, consistent evaluation. The selected process concepts were modelled using the process simulation software IPSEpro to determine mass balances, energy balances and product distributions. For each BTL concept, a cost model was developed in MS Excel to estimate capital, operating and production costs. An uncertainty analysis based on the Monte Carlo statistical method, was also carried out to examine how the uncertainty in the input parameters of the cost model could affect the output (i.e. production cost) of the model. This was the first time that
an uncertainty analysis was included in a published techno-economic assessment study of BTL systems.
It was found that bio-oil gasification cannot currently compete with solid biomass gasification due to the lower efficiencies and higher costs associated with the additional thermal conversion step of fast pyrolysis. Fischer-Tropsch synthesis was the most promising fuel synthesis technology for commercial production of liquid hydrocarbon fuels since it achieved higher efficiencies and lower costs than TIGAS and MTG. None of the
BTL systems were competitive with conventional fossil fuel plants. However, if government tax take was reduced by approximately 33% or a subsidy of £55/t dry biomass was available, transport biofuels could be competitive with conventional fuels. Large scale
biofuel production may be possible in the long term through subsidies, fuels price rises and legislation.
Date of Award2013
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorTony Bridgwater (Supervisor) & John G Brammer (Supervisor)


  • biomass
  • gasification
  • pyrolysis
  • synthetic fuels
  • process simulation

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