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NextFuels finds new use for palm plantation residue

Wet, untreated biomass has the potential to yield commercial volumes of biofuels in Asia, says NextFuels, a company dedicated to transforming agricultural residue into renewable fuel.

The underlying technology will allow NextFuels and its partners to produce bio-based petroleum at commercial scale for $75-85 (€56-64) a barrel using wet biomass that has not been mechanically or thermally dried.

The strategy will also provide palm plantation owners and others a way to transform the tonnes of residual plant matter generated by agricultural operations into a new, profitable second crop. NextFuels said in a statement that is initially focusing on Southeast Asia as biomass fires have become a major source of air pollution in the region.

NextFuels has partnered with biofuel trading company Enagra in order to develop the technology. The two companies are owned by the same investors.

The market for edible palm oil and grown exponentially over the years and today is the largest source of cooking oil in the world with over 50 million tonnes produced annually. This growth has created an excess of residue with 4.4 to 6 tonnes of agricultural waste generated for each tonne of oil. Southeast Asia is home to over 1,000 crude palm oil mills and one of these can create 135,000 tonnes of agricultural residue a year.

The technology uses a bio-liquefaction system to produce GreenCrude. Around 25% of this can be burned as a solid fuel with the remaining 75% converted to a liquid fuel equivalent to petroleum that is compatible with existing pipelines and vehicles.

A positive feature associated with this process is that the biomass does not need to be processed beforehand, resulting in higher energy balances.

NextFuels says it is currently raising funds to rebuild a bio-liquefaction demo plant originally constructed by Shell in 2005 – Shell Oil originally developed the technology for this process several years ago. The plant has the capacity to produce between 5 and 8 barrels of oil per day. NextFuels says it plans to break ground on its first commercial-scale modules, costing $20 million and able to produce 250 barrels of oil equivalent a day, within the next two to three years.