From bio-waste to oil, to deep underground, CO₂ is sure to be permanently bound!
Bio-oil is the liquid product obtained when biomass is heated up to extremely high temperatures without oxygen in a process known as pyrolysis. This carbon-rich liquid can then either be permanently stored away underground or be upgraded and used as a green energy source.
The three main steps of bio-oil production and storage are outlined below. This hybrid carbon removal technology combines natural and engineered processes.
Through the process of photosynthesis, plants trap CO₂ and convert it into carbon-rich biomass.
Biomass is quickly heated to between 300 and 800ºC in full or partial absence of oxygen to produce the bio-oil and other by-products such as gas and biochar.
Bio-oil is mainly injected deeply in underground formations and permanently stored. However, it can also be refined and used as energy source.
Capture & Storage
How it works
The sequestration step in carbon dioxide removal via bio-oil production is facilitated by photosynthesis. Plants, such as agricultural crops and trees in forests, take up water from the soil and absorb CO₂ from the atmosphere. Using energy from the sun, a green pigment called chlorophyll converts the water and CO₂ to oxygen and glucose. The oxygen is released into the atmosphere and the glucose goes on to nourish the growing plant and create biomass. Agricultural residues as well as microalgae are suitable sources of waste biomass for the bio-oil production.
During pyrolysis, pre-treated biomass is subjected to high pressure and thermal decomposition in the absence of oxygen. This prevents the biomass from rotting and reemitting CO₂ to the atmosphere. Three products are produced in the process: synthetic gas, bio-oil and biochar. Specifically, bio-oil production is optimized from fast pyrolysis, where the higher temperatures (450-700ºC), short residence time and faster heating rates produce mainly liquid and gaseous products. After the cooling and condensation step in the Quencher unit, the dark brown liquid, bio-oil, is collected.
During pyrolysis, pre-treated waste biomass is subjected to high pressure and thermal decomposition in absence of oxygen. This prevents the biomass from rotting and reemitting CO2 to the atmosphere. Three products are produced in the process: synthetic gas, bio-oil and biochar. Specifically, bio-oil production is optimized from fast pyrolysis, where the higher temperatures (450-700ºC), short residence time and faster heating rates produce mainly liquid and gaseous products. After the cooling and condensation step in the Quencher unit, the dark brown liquid, bio-oil, is collected.
Carbon Storage & Use
The storage of carbon via bio-oil in underground rock formations is considered highly permanent as these formations successfully stored crude oil for millions of years. Additionally, bio-oil tends to sink and solidify once injected, which improves the expected permanence guarantee.
Currently, upgraded bio-oil valorization is being developed. It can also be used as a renewable feedstock for the production of energy, biofuels, chemicals and carbon materials.
Bio-oil’s climate impact prowess among the carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies can be attributed to its high permanence and additionality. Successful injection into geological formations is expected to result in secure storage of carbon for 10,000 years, and potentially much longer. Its additionality stems from its lack of inherent commercial value outside the bounds of CDR. However, this additionality is contingent on bio-oil not competing with feedstocks destined for fossil fuel replacement. Additionally, bio-oil can be produced and its carbon stored away relatively rapidly compared to other CDR methods.
Bio-oil offers limited co-benefits. Compared to other CDR methods, it delivers fewer positive social and environmental impacts. In fact, we cannot be sure that negative environmental impacts will not result from bio-oil injection as it is such a new development and long-term, on-the-ground research does not exist. However, the by-products from bio-oil production do confer various additional benefits. Biochar can be used in agriculture to enhance soil carbon storage, fertilizer use efficiency, and water holding capacity. Additionally, the synthesis gas (syngas) by-product is a renewable energy source and can reduce our dependance on fossil fuels.
Why we use this method
A scalable, permanent, recurring solution
Bio-oil is a highly efficient carbon removal method, emerging from the combination of nature and engineering. Not only can it be produced from several different waste feedstocks, but it can be geologically stored, permanently removing carbon, and transformed into valuable products. Once the technology is well established, scaled and responsible production of bio-oil is achieved, a significant positive climate impact is possible.
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