BioMCN aims to develop wood-to-methanol plant in Netherlands

By Erin Voegele | May 27, 2011

A company in the northern region of the Netherlands that already produces second-generation biobased methanol from glycerin is working to develop a new plant that would produce the same chemical from woody biomass. The company, BioMCN, currently produces 200,000 metric tons of biobased methanol per year using waste glycerin sourced from biodiesel plants.

The company, which is owned by private equity firm Waterland, purchased two existing methanol plants four years ago. The previously idle plants originally produced methanol from natural gas feedstock. A portion of one plant has since been retrofitted to produce biomethanol. According to BioMCN CEO Rob Voncken, the plant is being retrofitted in two phases. Once phase two is complete in 2013, the plant will be capable of producing 400,000 tons of biomethanol each year. The second plant will likely remain idle, Voncken said.

Biobased methanol produced at the plant qualifies as a second-generation biofuel under the European Union’s Renewable Energy Directive (RED). According to Voncken, much of his company’s product is sold into the fuels market, where it is blended with gasoline. He said this is especially common in China where the government has encouraged methanol blending as a way to reduce petroleum consumption. BioMCN’s biomethanol is also sold into plastics, coatings, and other chemical markets.

Voncken said one primary advantage of BioMCN’s product is that the molecules are identical to fossil-based methanol. While methanol has a lower energy content than gasoline, he noted that the CO2savings associated with his company’s biomethanol are impressive. When compared to gasoline, Voncken said BioMCN’s biomethanol results in 73 percent CO2 savings. When compared to fossil methanol, the CO2 savings are even more impressive, reaching up to 76 percent savings, Voncken continued.

BioMCN is also moving forward with a planned project to produce biomethanol from woody biomass. In cooperation with a consortium of four other companies and five sponsor organizations, BioMCN has applied for a subsidy from the EU to construct a 900,000-metric-ton-per-year wood-to-methanol plant adjacent to its existing facility. The proposed facility would take in 1.5 million tons of wet wood feedstock. The feedstock would be dried and converted into a biobased syngas. The sygas would be further catalyzed to methanol.

Voncken said seven companies have already approached BioMCN with proposals to supply feedstock to the project. The company aims to have the project operational by 2015. The EU is awarding subsidies to support two renewable energy projects in each EU member state. A total of three projects have been nominated in Holland. Voncken said a decision is expected to be announced by May 2012. 

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