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Horizon Research & Innovation Action

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July 2023 –
June 2027

PYSOLO Making use of concentrated solar power for biomass pyrolysis: new paths for a climate-neutral Europe

The EU chemical industry urgently needs to abstain from fossil resources and to move towards the use of renewable carbon. Energy and heat needed for industrial processes can be derived from renewable sources such as solar energy. However, this decarbonisation through electrification of the industry is not sufficient to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. In parallel, the chemical industry needs to be defossilised. For this, the raw material for chemicals and materials must come from renewable sources, e.g. biomass.

PYSOLO (PYrolysis of biomass by concentrated SOLar pOwer) offers a solution for both decarbonisation and defossilisation by preparing the ground for a fully renewable process combining concentrated solar power and biomass pyrolysis. Thanks to the use of solar heat in the pyrolysis process, the production of valuable products bio-oil, biochar and pyrogas can be maximised and the associated CO₂ emission minimised. This offers both economic and environmental benefits compared to conventional pyrolysis. 

Making use of the heat of the sun

PySolo - Heat of the Sun

Concentrated Solar Power (CSP)is a technology in which sunlight is captured by several movable mirrors and directed onto a solar receiver. This solar particle receiver absorbs the concentrated sunlight and converts it into thermal energy by heating up a particle heat carrier (PHC). This process and in particular the particle receiver are being further developed and refined within the PYSOLO project in order to use them for downstream heat-intensive biomass pyrolysis.

Converting biomass into alternative energy sources

Biomass pyrolysis is an endothermic thermochemical process that enables the conversion of different types of biomass – in the case of PYSOLO this is wood – into high-value products such as bio-oil, biochar and pyrolysis gas with high conversion yields. These products can be used for both energy and non-energy applications, e.g. as biofuels for the transport sector and as biochar for agricultural purposes (as fertiliser).

In conventional pyrolysis, the required heat is generated by burning (bio)coal or pyrogas, which results in only 65% of the biomass being exploited to produce bio-oil. As the pyrogas is also a high-value product of pyrolysis, its combustion is an economically and ecologically inefficient step, as high-value biogenic carbon is lost in the process, which is additionally emitted as CO2. Generating heat through CSP instead of burning pyrogas is therefore a logical and sensible step.

PySolo - Biomass
PySolo - Electric grid

Full flexibility for self-mode and balancing of the electric grid.

Nevertheless, the combustion of some of the pyrolysis products is not completely ruled out in the PYSOLO project. A main innovation of the PYSOLO technology is that the pyrolysis process can be operated in two ways: It is run by CSP during sunny hours, while it is fuelled by burning pyrolysis gas or biochar when the (stored) CSP heat is not sufficient. The PYSOLO technology can also balance the electric grid: if necessary, the pyrolysis gas can be converted into electricity and fed into the grid. On the other hand, if cheap and surplus renewable energy is available from the electric grid, it can be converted into high-temperature heat energy to sustain the pyrolysis process. The PYSOLO process is thus a uniquely flexible system that can cope with many different conditions.

Work Packages

The WP will pursue the following objectives: 1) To establish an efficient management structure to monitor the overall project implementation; 2) to ensure early identification of problems and to enable timely contingency measures; 3) to monitor overall scientific quality, leading to the achievement of project objectives and to the formulation of high-quality deliverables and conclusions; 4) to ensure adequate communication flow among partners and with the EC; 5) to ensure efficient management of ethics issues.

The WP will pursue the following objectives: 1) To characterize the operations of the auger and FB pyrolysis reactors with different PHCs; 2) To validate at TRL 4 the pyrolysis processes in auger and FB reactors with selected PHC; 3) To erect, test and validate the induction heating of heat carrier particles in fluidised bed; 4) To erect, test and validate the hot and cold PHC-char separation unit; 5) To perform modelling of the pyrolysis processes from the molecular to the reactor scale.

The WP will pursue the following objectives: 1) Characterization of the PHCs to support the selection of the most promising for solar pyrolysis; 2) Design, building and testing of the solar receiver and the peripheral components with different types of heat carriers; 3) Development of a detailed thermal model for the receiver, to provide performance correlations to be used in the overall PYSOLO plant model and scale-up study.

The WP will pursue the following objectives: 1) To identify the target biomass for the PYSOLO process; 2) To provide inputs to technology developers in WP2-3 on the most promising PHC and on the experimental matrices, based on the complete process simulation study; 3) To calculate techno-economic KPIs of PYSOLO solar pyrolysis with process simulations and economic models and compare the results with benchmark systems; 4) To identify the risks and propose mitigation measures for a safe development and deployment of the PYSOLO processes; 5) To assess the solar pyrolysis PYSOLO process with Life Cycle Analysis (LCA); 6) To perform a pre-engineering scale-up study of commercial PYSOLO processes and of a pilot plant for technology demonstration at TRL6-7 in a follow-up project; 7) To perform techno-economic analysis of the integration of the PYSOLO concept in three refineries in Southern Europe.

WP objectives are: 1) to coordinate and to provide support for the dissemination of project results – internally as well as externally; 2) to create “public relations” in terms of building up and maintaining contacts with target groups and key stakeholders with the intention of engaging stakeholders and the public in all core aspects of the project; 3) to ensure efficient commercial exploitation of the project results; 4) to achieve the highest possible benefit for scientists, policy makers, professionals and society by raising public awareness to the renewable energy sector and the new approaches funded by the EU; 5) to manage IPR.

Glossary

An auger reactor is a type of pyrolysis reactor which uses a screw to convey and mix a feedstock (e.g. wood chips) with particle heat carriers (PHCs) down the length of a tube.

Biochar is a high-value solid material (made of carbon and ash) produced by pyrolysis via a thermochemical conversion of biomass in an oxygen-limited environment. Thus, biochar is a form of charcoal that can be used for different energetic and non-energetic applications, e.g. as biofuels and for agricultural purposes (as fertiliser).

Biomass pyrolysis is an endothermic thermochemical process that enables the conversion of different types of biomass – in the case of PYSOLO this is wood – into high-value products such as bio-oil, biochar and pyrolysis gas with different conversion yields depending on the process technology.

CSP is a technology in which sunlight is directed by several movable mirrors (heliostats) onto a solar receiver. The concentrated sunlight is absorbed by the solar receiver, whereby temperatures of up to over 1000 °C can be reached. The resulting high-temperature process heat can be used to generate electricity, but also for a variety of other processes in commercial and industrial operations, for example a production of CO₂-neutral solar fuels.

A fluidised bed reactor is a type of pyrolysis reactor in which a fluid (gas or liquid) is passed through a solid granular material (e.g. a particle heat carrier, PHC, such as sand) at a sufficiently high speed so that the solid is suspended and behaves like a liquid.

Induction heating is the process of heating electrically conductive materials such as metals or semi-conductors via an inductor by applying an electromagnetic field.

PHCs serve as an inexpensive heat storage for solar energy, that can subsequently be used to generate electricity or to drive downstream industrial processes, e.g. biomass pyrolysis.

At the end of the pyrolysis process, a solid stream and a gas stream leave the pyrolysis reactor. The solid stream is directed to a PHC biochar separator where biochar is again separated from the PHCs, whereas the gas stream is cooled to separate bio-oil from pyrogas by condensation.

Besides biochar, pyrogas and bio-oil are both pyrolysis products. Bio-oil is a kind of tar, whereas pyrogas is a syngas. Both can be used as renewable fuels for the transport sector.

A rotary kiln is a cylindrical vessel (slowly rotating around its horizontal axis) with which materials are processed to reach high temperatures and can be used for heating-up of particle heat carriers.

In a solar particle receiver, the thermal energy produced via Concentrated Solar Power is used to heat solid particles, so-called particle heat carriers.