Gasification of biomass for negative emissions

Hydrogen is a gaseous fuel that has been identified as an ideal candidate to help supporting the demand in diverse energy and fuel sectors. A difference from other fuels, hydrogen offers a great flexibility, meaning its energy and fuels applications offer a wider scope than other gas-fuels counterparts. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), natural gas conversion is the main hydrogen source covering about 75% of the total demand for this fuel. Natural gas is a fossil fuel, and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are involved through its whole conversion chain from extraction until obtention of final products, including hydrogen. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas (GHG) which greatly contributes to climate change, with an estimate of 158 million tonnes emitted in the UK in 2021 (Global Carbon Budget, 2022). Considering the current and future global fuel demands, ongoing fossil fuel depletion, and associated GHG emissions during its conversion, there is an urgent need to find alternative sustainable and renewable sources that can help coping with these demands.

Biomass is a renewable and sustainable material that can be used as alternative feedstock to obtain high-value fuels and chemicals via different conversion processes. In this project, we will study the potential to obtain a high-hydrogen gas stream from the conversion of biomass resources via a process known as gasification. Gasification is a process taking place at high temperatures (i.e., 700 up to 1000 °C), and has been studied for many years, however some optimisation is still required to ensure the process is flexible and efficient. This optimisation will be studied via experimental approaches and incorporating the use of novel materials such as catalysts.

Furthermore, the carbon dioxide emissions element will also be evaluated using modelling tools known as life cycle (LCA) and techno-economic analysis (TEA). CO2 emissions through the whole biomass conversion can be carbon neutral, as CO2 is absorbed by organic material (i.e., when growing), then released during the conversion process. This project will look beyond that scenario to explore how this technology can contribute to negative emissions and to produce hydrogen, a high-value flexible fuel. This will be achieved by exploring the incorporation of carbon capture technologies and assessing its benefit to achieve a whole negative emissions process. We are expecting the project will allow industrialists a tool to evaluate and deploy gasification-to-hydrogen pathways.

This project is led by Paula Blanco-Sanchez.