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Producing fuels from biomass

A first-generation of biofuels is currently available in gas stations, mixed with gasoline and diesel in variable proportions.

First-generation biodiesel and ethanol are produced from oil- and sugar-containing plants and cereals.

The purpose of second-generation processes is to produce fuels from lignocellulose, particularly agricultural and forestry waste. The resource is potentially available in much larger quantities than is the case for the first generation.

Two main processes are being studied:

  • biochemical conversion,
  • thermochemical conversion.


Biochemical conversion

Biochemical conversion is used to convert biomass into alcohols (ethanol, butanol, etc.) which can be combined with gasoline.

IFPEN research focuses on the steps related to processes specific to the second-generation:

  • pretreatment of lignocellulose to release the complex sugars,
  • and enzymatic hydrolysis to convert the complex sugars into simple, readily fermentable sugars.

IFPEN’s expertise in processes also means that it is able to optimize integration of the various steps, both on an environmental and economic level.

                            Biotechnology laboratory - Culture of microorganisms

In this field, IFPEN is lending its expertise, laboratories and pilot units to the Futurol project.

Launched in 2008, the Futurol™ project should lead to the marketing of a complete chain for the production of second generation of bioethanol. The latter covers a process, technologies and biocatalysts that have been optimized in terms of their energy efficiency, for the production of competitive bioethanol in line with sustainable development principles. The pre-industrialization phase of the process was launched in 2015. The pilot unit has been modified in order to improve its industrial representativity; it will operate in 2016 with a view to providing key data to validate the integration of the process. The design and construction of a large-scale industrial prototype for pre-treatment were also launched in 2015. It will be brought into service in June 2016 to validate the extrapolation of the technology, vital for the complete chain. The entire process will be marketed by Axens in 2017, following the pre-marketing phase, already under way.

        The Futurol project for the development of a bioethanol production process.


Thermochemical conversion

The second biomass conversion process being studied by IFPEN is the thermochemical option.

Research in this area is primarily focused on the gasification process, also known as BtL (Biomass to Liquid). This process involves the packaging and high-temperature gasification of biomass, the purification of the synthetic gas produced, followed by catalytic synthesis to deliver liquid fuels. Fischer-Tropsch synthesis is the most widely-used method since it produces diesel and kerosene of a very high quality.

The BioTfueL demonstration project, launched in 2010, incorporates all these steps. The project aims to test, validate and optimize the complete chain by 2019. The construction of two pilot units was launched in 2015: one for the pre-treatment of biomass by torrefaction, the other for fuel gasification and synthesis. They will be brought into service at the end of 2016.

                   Miscanthus is used in the production of second-generation biofuels. 

Read more
 + Industrial development > Biofuels and green chemistry
 + Biofuels turn to fungus, by Antoine Margeot and Frédéric Monot

 > site web Axens
 > site web Futurol

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Key figures

Average growth in the global demand for biofuels between 2010 and 2030.

Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions with second-generation biofuels.