Environmental engineering company REAC Fuel in Lund, Sweden has developed a patented extraction method for converting ligno -cellulose biomass into bio-fuel.

The secret is to decompose biomass into simple sugar molecules that can then be used to produce ethanol and other types of bio-fuels. The technology makes it possible for example to cost-effectively produce fuel that can be used in diesel engines.

“Our method can be used on an industrial scale and the advantage is that ligno-cellulose contains enough energy to be used as an energy source in the process,” says Anders Carlius, president of REAC Fuel.

“The thermo-chemical method is cheap and quick and we can produce sugars from biomass at a price that is about half the level compared to the current market price for sugar. The sugar we produce has many uses – like biogas.”

“In a few years, our biofuels will cost as much as fossil fuels,” claims Carlius.

Hemp – a potential raw material

Hemp (Cannabis sativa) is a very durable and fast-growing annual herb. It is one of the oldest and most hardy cultivated plants and can grow on poor soil in most climate zones. Hemp has been refined over thousands of years, for both the textile industry and for some medical purposes. The fibers can be used in fabrics and ropes, and hemp oil can be extracted from the seeds.

Hemp is perhaps best known because it is possible to produce the drug cannabis from seeds containing the substance THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), something that restricted the cultivation of hemp in many countries. Between 1970 and 2005, all cultivation of cannabis sativa was banned in Sweden but it is now allowed to grow ‘industrial hemp,’ a variety containing only low concentrations of THC.

“Hemp is of interest for the production of bio-fuels,” says Rune Ekman, co-founder of REAC Fuel. “Cellulose content is between 32 and 38 per cent and growth is robust and yields about 20 tons dry matter per hectare up to the Arctic Circle. We see hemp as a possible energy bridge between transport and photosynthesis.”

“We can use all types of biomass containing cellulose, hemi-cellulose and lignin. The production of bio-fuels is possible in particular small scale in modular units with local producers. Proximity to raw materials reduces the need for transport.”

The patented method for the production of bio-fuel comprises a first stage where the biomass (ligno-cellulose) is broken down into a solvent made up of its component parts. These include sugars having five or six carbon atoms and compounds that contain lignin.

In a second step, a reducing agent, to increase the concentration of the “target molecules” in the fuel, is added, and both steps take place in a thermo-chemical process at a temperature lower than 300 ° C.

Further development of the technology

Since its inception in 2006, the Company has received a capital injection of around SEK 50 million and in 2010, REAC Fuel took in 30 million from BP including venture capital firms VantagePoint and the Sustainable Technologies Fund.

The money has been used to obtain patent protection and to further develop the technology, and the next step is to start production. This is happening in the Stockholm area and the company is now looking for more than 60 million in new capital for business expansion.

The article was published in May 2012