Sustainable synthetic fuels from waste biomass for the transport industry

Vienescu, Diana Nicoleta (2018) Sustainable synthetic fuels from waste biomass for the transport industry. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This thesis set out to investigate the sustainability of synthetic fuel obtained from waste biomass. There were many emerging alternative transportation fuels, which could reduce the world’s reliance on fossil fuels; however, there are particular concerns about the techno-socio-economic viability of synthetic fuels. Moreover, there were many different technological options for the production of these synthetic fuels, each with their own multifarious challenges and benefits. Following a review of thermochemical conversion technologies and fuel quality upgrading processes, six alternative synthetic fuel production scenarios were established as the most promising options to pursue. The six synthetic fuel production scenarios investigated utilised fast pyrolysis of corn stover in a fluidised bed reactor to produce bio-fuel. The fuel upgrading stages considered comprised of single-stage and two-stage hydrotreating, esterification, ketonisation and hydrocracking. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) was adopted to examine the environmental feasibility of these scenarios in comparison to conventional diesel fuel, and an economic analysis was performed to determine the sensitivity of several key financial indicators. The expected CO2 equivalent emissions from synthetic fuel production were found to be between 2240 and 6000 gCO2e/kg of synthetic fuel and the use of it will emit 3200 gCO2e/kg, which was greater than the emissions arising from the production of diesel fuel (approximately 4200 gCO2e/kg of diesel fuel); net expected emissions including CO2 absorption and fuel combustion in a well-to-wheel analysis were also evaluated and indicated that the emissions could be as low as -926 gCO2e/kg of synthetic fuel. The expected cost of synthetic fuel was found to range from $1.42 to $10.94 /kg and was reduced in the most optimistic case to between $0.64 to $4.34 /kg of synthetic fuel. To perform a systematic comparison of the six scenarios, the thesis went on to use the Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) and The Technique for Order of Preference by Similarity to Ideal Solution (TOPSIS): multi-criteria decision analysis methods. A recommendation arising from the AHP and TOPSIS analysis was that if the system was optimised, esterification and esterification-ketonisation with single-stage hydrotreating could provide reasonable trade-offs between product quality, cost and achievable environmental gains.

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