A tree in the tank – fuels made from biomass

20 per cent of the CO2 emissions in Germany can be attributed to road traffic. An interdisciplinary research team is working on a solution in the excellence cluster for "Tailor-Made Fuels from Biomass" at RWTH Aachen University: They want to produce sustainable fuels from biomass components.

There are numerous approaches to making renewable energies usable in the transport sector. The transformation of biomass into liquid fuels is one of the most exciting and at the same time one of the most challenging approaches. Since 2007, more than 70 researchers from the fields of chemistry, biology, process engineering and mechanical engineering have been addressing the challenge of developing new alternative fuels from biomass that do not compete with food production. This work is being carried out within the excellence cluster for "Tailor-Made Fuels from Biomass – TMFB" at RWTH Aachen University, funded by the DFG (German Research Foundation). In addition to 27 institutes and professorships at RWTH Aachen University, one Fraunhofer Institute and one Max Planck Institute are also involved.

Engine for progress:

  • fuel development without competing with food
  • interdisciplinary research approach
  • parallel development of the fuel and the combustion engine
  • integrated reduction in CO2 and pollutant emissions
  • development of 3-4 sample fuels

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Photo: TMFB/Thilo Vogel

Mechanical pre-treatment of lignocellulosic biomass using a screw press by TMFB scientists at Aachener Vefahrenstechnik-Mechanical Process Engineering.

The energy density of liquid fuels is substantially higher than that of gaseous fuels or even batteries. Because of this, internal combustion engines that use liquid fuel are likely to remain the drive system of choice for medium and long distance traffic as well as heavy-load traffic. The long-term goal of the work at TMFB is the definition and investigation of optimal combinations of renewable fuel components, their production processes and optimised combustion processes.

Fully integrated – from the plant to the engine

Sustainable use from the plant raw material to soot-free combustion can only succeed if the entire value chain is taken into consideration. This is exactly the approach being pursued and optimised in Aachen, so that the fuels developed will allow an integrated reduction in CO2 and pollutant emissions.

Big goals – concrete results

By 2017, the Fuel Design Process is to be established as an interdisciplinary tool for the identification of sustainable fuels and three to four sample fuels are to have been developed. As a biomass, particular attention is being paid to lignocellulose from wood or straw. The engines must also be adapted simultaneously (e.g. gaskets and seals, ignition system, adapted combustion procedures) for the newly developed fuels. Within the excellency cluster, new processes and methods have already been developed and the "Fuel Designs" methodology has already been successfully demonstrated on the basis of several innovative fuels.

Photo: TMFB/Thilo Vogel

"Through the integrated development of innovative biofuels, clear CO2 savings are possible in comparison with conventional fuels, not only because these can be produced efficiently and ecologically, but also because they enable further optimisation of the engines at the same time."

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Stefan Pischinger, spokesperson for the excellence cluster

Partners and sponsors

  • Fuel Design Center
  • Andere Förderung