Biofuel production from waste streams

Nov 2011 New Article: Biowaste: Driving Fuels - An article produced by the EBTP Secretariat for Waste Managment World on the European Industrial Bioenergy Initiative, with a specific focus on waste feedstocks (e.g. waste wood, biowaste, MSW).

Examples and pictures >>

A wide variety of wastes can potentially be used as biofuels feedstocks:

  • Municipal solid waste - the component of municipal solid waste which is of biological origin (mainly kitchen and garden waste, paper, cardboard, but including other waste fractions which are of biological origin).
  • Construction/Demolition wood – wood offcuts from building construction and wood recovered during demolition
  • Packaging waste wood - from the packaging and palettes industry (palettes, crates, etc)
  • Household waste wood – items such as old furniture, fencing
  • Market waste – such as green tops and unsold vegetables from markets
  • Sewage sludge
  • Food processing wastes – wastes from the dairy and sugar industry and wine and beer production. Waste streams with less volumes involved (e.g. orange rests from orange juice production) can also be of interest.
  • Gardening wastes – grass cuttings, leaves and small branches

Sewage sludge is converted to biogas via anaerobic digestion. Food industry waste may be converted to ethanol via fermentation. Waste cooking oils, for example, can be filtered and used as SVO or converted to biodiesel. Lignocellulosic (woody) or mixed waste materials may be converted to biocrude via pyrolysis/thermochemical routes. Thermochemcial processes may also be used to to produce various fuels bio-jet fuel, biodiesel and bioethanol. The conversion technology used depends on the precise nature and volume of waste that is available and the end product (more information is provided on pages about specific second generation conversion technologies for advanced sustainable biofuels).

Biofuels produced from organic waste materials are generally considered to be sustainable, even if they use first generation conversion technologies, as they do not impact significantly on land-use, indirect effects, food prices, etc..

Examples of biofuels from waste streams

In August 2013, Fiberight announced plans to build a plant in Iowa to convert MSW into feedstocks for production of biogas and cellulsoic ethanol.

In May 2013 Fulcrum BioEnergy Inc. announced it has received $4.7m funding from the US D.o.D. for development of a plant to produce biojet fuel from MSW. The system is based on a steam-reforming gasification system followed by Fischer Tropsch.

British Airways continues to develop its GreenSky project in East London to convert 500000 tonnes of waste per annum to 16 million gallons of jet fuel.

  • Solena Fuels Corporation will provide the high temperature gasification process that converts waste matter into synthesis gas and the overall Integrated Biomass Gasification to Liquids (IBGTL) solution
  • Oxford Catalysts Group/Velocys will supply the Fisher-Tropsch (FT) reactors and catalyst which will convert the cleaned synthesis gas into liquid hydrocarbons
  • Fluor has started the pre-front end engineering and design (Pre-FEED) for the GreenSky project, and is providing engineering services to support Solena. [Source: BA Press Release, September 2012).

California Energy Commission has recently allocated $26m for biomethane production projects, including a $4.5m project to demonstrate production of biomethane from MSW.

In December 2011, CHO Power SAS (a subsidiary of Europlasma) and Sunrise Renewables announced plans to build 4 high temperature plasma gasification facilities at UK docks to convert waste wood into clean syngas. The Syngas will be cleaned further and the tar removed, prior to power production via gas engine generators. The company is also developing a demonstration facility in Morcenx, France that will gasify 37,000 tonnes of ordinary industrial waste and 15,000 tonnes wood chips per annum, generating power for EDF.

Enerkem, through its affiliate Enerkem Alberta Biofuels, has signed a 25-year agreement with the City of Edmonton to build and operate a plant that will produce and sell next-generation biofuels from non-recyclable and non-compostable municipal solid waste (MSW).  Sorted MSW is shredded and then fed into a gasifier, where heat and pressure create syngas, which is then cleaned and conditioned prior to catalytic conversion to methanol and ethanol.  With a production capacity of 38 million litres per year (10 million gallons per year), the Enerkem Alberta Biofuels facility is expected to be the world's first major collaboration of its kind, between a metropolitan centre and a waste-to-biofuels producer.  This facility is part of a comprehensive municipal waste-to-biofuels initiative in partnership with the City of Edmonton and Alberta Innovates, and will enable the City of Edmonton to increase its residential waste diversion rate to 90 percent.  For more information please visit and

In February 2011, INEOS Bio broke ground at the Indian River BioEnergy Center, US, the first commercial-scale project using INEOS Bio’s patented technology, which features a four-step process: gasification, fermentation, distillation and power generation [Source INEOS Bio].

In November 2009, INEOS Bio, UK announced a £3.5m feasibility study for a commercial plant to convert locally generated biodegradable household and commercial wastes into bioethanol and electrical power using a combined thermochemical and biochemical technology. The study, including detailed engineering design, is being supported by a £2.2m grant from the Regional Development Agency One North East and the Department for Energy and Climate Change.

At the heart of the INEOS Bio technology is an anaerobic fermentation step, through which naturally occurring bacteria convert gases derived directly from biomass into bio-ethanol. The process supports high recycling and high landfill diversion rates.

ATENEA pilot plant

IMECAL is working with CIEMAT and FORD Spain on the PERSEO pilot plant to demonstrate production of bioethanol from MSW. These partners, as well as AVEN, are also operating the ATENEA pilot plant, to demonstrate the the conversion of citrus wastes into cellulolsic ethanol.

pdf icon View ATENEA presentation from SPM2

pdf icon View PERSEO presentation from SPM2

Neste NexBtL Plant

© Copyright Neste Oil
Neste Oil NExBTL plant in Finland can use a mix of vegetable oil and waste fat for production of biodiesel.
View at larger size >>

St1 Filling statioon

© Copyright St1
The St1 Biofuels Oy filling station in Finland retails Etanolix® - bioethanol produced from food industry waste and side streams.  View at larger size >>

St1 Biofuels is currently developing next generation bioethanol Bionolix™ produced from a wider range of commercial and domestic wastes.

In Austria, M-Real Hallein AG is developing a concept to produce bioethanol from wood sugars derived from sulfite spent liquor (SSL), a by-product of paper and pulp production.