V¨rmlandsMetanol AB has selected Uhde, a ThyssenKrupp company, as technology supplier and engineering partner for a biomass-to-methanol plant in Hagfors, Sweden, with an annual production of 100,000 tonnes of fuel-grade methanol from forest-residue biomass. Investment for the plant will be about SEK 3 billion (US$416 million).

The V¨rmlandsMetanol plant will be the first full-scale commercial biomass-to-methanol plant. The plant will gasify about 1,000 tonnes of wood biomass per day and convert the resulting syngas into some 375,000 liters (99,000 gallons US) of methanol per day via a catalytic process, according to Björn O. Gillberg, founder of V¨rmlandsMetanol. In addition to the methanol, the plant can deliver district-heating water with a thermal duty of 15 MW.

V¨rmlandsMetanol’s goal is to have the Hagfors plant operational at the end of 2013. Subsequently, it intends to build either by itself or in collaboration with other stakeholders, several other forest methanol and / or forest-diesel plants.

Methanol can be blended with gasoline at low- to mid-levels (up to 25%) for use in engines with no modification or used in flex-fuel vehicles for high blends. It can be converted into gasoline, or used as a liquid fuel option for fuel cells.

Biomass to Methanol. Modern interest substituting biomass for coal or natural gas as a gasification or reforming (respectively) feedstock to provide syngas for catalytic conversion to methanol reaches back several decades. As one example, the Hynol Process Project in the US focused on converting biomass and hydrogen into syngas used to produce liquid methanol at high temperatures and high pressures.

In a 2005 paper published in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels, Yin et al. note that:

The composition of syngas derived from biomass is different from that derived from natural gas and coal. The latter consists mainly of H2 and CO, with a small amount of CO2, whereas bio-syngas consists much more of CO2 but much less of H2, resulting in a low H/C ratio and a high CO2/CO ratio. Therefore, the composition of bio-syngas is not favorable for methanol synthesis under the conventional method.

The composition of bio-syngas is dependent on the gasification method used. Theoretically, a syngas with a H2/CO ratio of 2.0, which is appropriate for methanol synthesis, can be obtained adiabatically by adjusting certain gasification parameters. However, the differences between the actual data and theoretical results are substantial. Moreover, economical aspects must be considered for practical processes. In most cases, bio-syngas is a CO2-rich and H2-deficient feed gas, which can be tailored in the downstream process by water-gas shift reaction, by methane reforming, by CO2 removal, or by supplying H2 to readjust its composition before entering into the synthesis loop. However, the capital cost for syngas generation made in this way will be very high. Therefore, simplification in the syngas production would improve the overall process economics significantly.

Uhde. Uhde first designed and constructed a methanol plant in 1931, employing a high-pressure methanol synthesis process with the syngas feed being generated from coal.

Uhde later constructed the first low-pressure (LP) methanol plant using a copper-based catalyst, also with coal as feedstock. The first modern methanol plant, using steam reforming of natural gas and a low-pressure synthesis process (50 bar) was designed and supervised by Uhde in Romania in 1972/1974. Uhde partners with Johnson Matthey Catalysts (JMC), which has developed a new high-activity methanol synthesis catalyst (KATALCO 51-8).

In March, Uhde’s PRENFLO gasification process with direct quench (PDQ) was selected to be part of joint research and development project BioTfueL in France. (Earlier post.)

The PRENFLO process was selected on the basis of its flexibility in processing a wide variety of biomasses and other resources. It allows high energy efficiency and enables very pure synthesis gas to be produced. A torrefaction pre-treatment plant, which facilitates the application of biomass in the PRENFLO-PDQ entrained-flow gasifier, and ensures lowest possible energy consumption, is installed to allow the use of a wide range of biomasses.


  • Yanan Zhang, Jun Xiao and Laihong Shen (2009) Simulation of Methanol Production from Biomass Gasification in Interconnected Fluidized Beds. Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., 48 (11), pp 5351–5359 doi: 10.1021/ie801983z

  • Xiuli Yin, Dennis Y. C. Leung, Jie Chang, Junfeng Wang, Yan Fu, and Chuangzhi Wu (2005) Characteristics of the Synthesis of Methanol Using Biomass-Derived Syngas. Energy Fuels, 19 (1), pp 305–310 doi: 10.1021/ef0498622

  • Robert H. Borgward (1998) Methanol Production from Biomass and Natural Gas as Transportation Fuel. Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., 37 (9), pp 3760–3767
    doi: 10.1021/ie980112n

  • Material and Energy Balances for Methanol from Biomass
    Using Biomass Gasifiers
    (NREL, 1992)