BY-NC-ND 3.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter September 19, 2015

BIOGO: contributing to the transformation of the petrochemical industry through advances in nanocatalysts and reactor design

Hannah Newton, Qi Wang, Smitha Sundaram, Andre van Veen, Stefan Kiesewalter and Gunther Kolb


BIOGO is a 4-year collaborative European project that intends to create a fully integrated and comprehensive process for the production of biofuels using novel heterogeneous nanocatalysts and sustainable resources. This process will be integrated with the enabling functions of innovative microreactor technology developed in the project. The BIOGO technology will address the scheme shown in Figure 1.

The key aims of BIOGO are to:

  • Design, develop and prepare nanoscale catalysts at an industrially relevant scale for the conversion of bioresources to liquid fuels.

  • Develop and demonstrate a process that converts renewable bio-oils and biogas to synthesis gas for subsequent catalytic transformation into biofuels and chemical platform products applying novel microstructured reactor technology.

  • Reduce the dependence on rare-earth oxides and precious metals for the catalyst formulations applied.

Figure 1: BIOGO scheme.

Figure 1:

BIOGO scheme.

BIOGO nanocatalyst development and microreactor technology

A microstructure-based innovative reactor design will be implemented in the BIOGO process layout as heat management and heat integration are key issues when striving for eco-efficiency and environmentally benign as well as sustainable processes. Highly compact and integrated reactor systems are needed, allowing us to completely transform the efficiency and economics of the catalytic processing steps by coating the catalysts on metallic surfaces, developing structured multichannel reactor designs that provide increased mass and heat transfer rates compared to conventional reactors, and combining several reaction steps in one reactor by making use of a heat-exchanger design to gain dual or multiple functions. Sizable improvements by microstructured reactors can be achieved in the following processes:

  1. Autothermal conversion of biogas and bio-oils to synthesis gas

    Coupled but separate catalytic reactors for reforming of biogas and pyrolysis oil will be developed by Fraunhofer ICT-IMM. Miniplant operation with coupled reforming will require a laboratory scale heat exchanger allowing the combined operation of exothermic partial oxidation of biogas and endothermic steam reforming of pyrolysis oil. Externally heated reactors for testing the developed catalysts as coatings in microchannels are needed. Syngas purification as well as the spraying and vaporizing of bio-oil in laboratory-scale reactors will be addressed.

  2. Conversion of syngas to methanol and Dimethyl Ether (DME)

    Catalyst tests will be performed under their actual operating environment in small-scale plate microreactors to select and optimize the most promising formulations with respect to activity and selectivity. Long-term stability tests will finally allow verifying the improved performance. ICT-IMM will design a heat-exchanger reactor for the improved heat management of the exothermic methanol and DME synthesis reactions.

  3. Conversion of methanol to hydrocarbons

    The objective is to construct a complete microreactor with reaction channels of approximately 300–400 μm diameter made of highly conductive material such as aluminium. The surface roughness of the reactor plates can be increased by a chemical etching step or by laser surface modification.

  4. Direct upgrading of bio-oil into higher alcohols and hydrocarbon fuels

    In order to minimize temperature hot spots and enable precise control of reaction temperatures, novel reactor designs and fabrication methods will be investigated. A staged reactor is envisaged enabling better conversion of the bio-oil constituents along the reactor, leading to improved conversion, selectivity and overall efficiency.

  5. Nanoparticle synthesis and nanoparticle deposition

    A microreactor-based continuous process for the synthesis of nanoparticles will be developed. Scalability will be taken into account so that sufficient amount of catalyst material can be generated. A further target of the project is the automation of nanoparticle deposition techniques for the production of catalyst-coated microfluidic plates. The system in development for the BIOGO project is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Nanocluster deposition system under development. © Teer Coatings 2015.

Figure 2:

Nanocluster deposition system under development. © Teer Coatings 2015.

This includes several development challenges:

  • Automated load-lock handling for microfluidic plates

  • Developing substrate manipulation to ensure adequate cluster deposition uniformity

  • Integrating nanocluster deposition with related coating deposition activities

  • Developing techniques to maximize material utilization

BIOGO process development, cost analysis and life cycle assessment

The BIOGO core process aims to produce gasoline from biogas and pyrolysis oils by the following route:

From the viewpoint of process development, how can this new developed process be competitive with the existing process from natural gas to gasoline through the same route? It requires a detailed study of the whole process simulation followed by systematic evaluation of energy, cost and environmental profile which can be benchmarked to the existing process. So, the aim of this task is to calculate the energy consumption, overall costs and sustainability to assess performance achievement against predefined process performance criteria, and to give recommendations on process design and option selection. In order to do so, this project will utilize life cycle assessment (LCA) and cost analysis – two prime techniques that are fast emerging as decision-making tools in the process industry.

First, the process design is carried out using ASPEN Plus for two scenarios – for the base case industrial production of 30 ktons/year of gasoline from natural gas using conventional technology, and the new proposed BIOGO route. The base case will serve as a reference in order to compare the performance (especially the LCA) of the new BIOGO process.

Next, the BIOGO process will then be optimized by exploring opportunities for heat integration within the process itself. Then, an LCA will be carried out to determine the environmental impacts and sustainability of the BIOGO process, using the software GaBi. Lastly, a detailed cost analysis will be carried out by calculating the capital expenditure and operating expenditure, both combined to net present value (NPV) cash flow. An LCA and cost analysis will also be carried out for the reference case, which will then be compared with the BIOGO process. Once all aspects have been analysed, a multi-decision criteria analysis will be carried out to determine the overall feasibility of the BIOGO project.

To keep updated on progress within the BIOGO project, please visit:

Funding: Seventh Framework Programme (Grant/Award number: “604296”).

Corresponding author: Gunther Kolb, Decentralized and Mobile Energy Technology Department, Fraunhofer ICT-IMM, Carl-Zeiss-Straße 18-20, 55129 Mainz, Germany, E-mail:

Published Online: 2015-9-19
Published in Print: 2015-10-1

©2015 by De Gruyter

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