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Biomass-waste pyrolysis


Technology Description

Pyrolysis is a thermochemical process in which a solid feedstock (in this case biomass or waste) is heated at high temperatures in the absence of any oxidant to be transformed into a gas mixture of H2, CO, CO2 and other light hydrocarbons (called syngas), along with other byproducts (char and tars). The gaseous fraction is treated to maximise H2 and CO proportions. Following treatment, the gas is passed through a water gas shift reactor in which steam reacts with CO in the presence of a catalyst to generate H2 and CO2. Then, the CO2 is captured and a high-purity H2 stream is obtained (99.9 vol% if Pressure Swing Adsorption is used). This technology has the potential to produce low carbon H2 and even to generate negative emissions if the captured CO2 is stored and the char (whose production is significantly larger than in the case of gasification) is used in applications that prevent its carbon content being released in the form of CO2. Biomass has an inherent low (< 1) hydrogen to carbon ratio, so the hydrogen yield from this feedstock is fundamentally lower than methane (40 g of H2 per kg of biomass as opposed to 300 g of H2 per kg of methane) requiring a higher intake of (limited) biomass if the goal is to produce a fixed hydrogen amount, but representing an attractive option if the goal is to sequestrate CO2 (although production of power and heat might be more attractive).

Relevance for Net Zero

Biomass/waste pyrolysis without CCS for the production of products different to heat and power has not reached commercialisation and, in the specific case of hydrogen, has not even been demonstrated due to technical challenges and lack of market competitiveness compared to other hydrogen production technologies. In addition, the availability of sustainable biomass is limited and its direct use is more efficient than its conversion into hydrogen.

Key Countries

United States, Croatia

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