Overview of Thermochemical Liquefaction activities in Canada, Germany and the United States

Apr 2024

This report provides an overview of research activities, demonstration activities and commercial applications of Direct Thermochemical Liquefaction of biomass in Canada, Germany and the United States.

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Overview of stakeholders:


Research initiatives:

  • CanmetENERGY is a branch of Natural Resources Canada, with three labs across Canada. CanmetENERGY-Ottawa operates its 5-10 kg/h fast pyrolysis facilities in support of direct thermochemical liquefaction and valorization of liquid as well as byproduct streams derived from low quality agriculture, forestry, and municipal solid residues.
  • The National Research Council (NRC) has developed a pilot scale (5 kg/hr) HTL facility and is pursuing research on hydrothermal liquefaction of wet bio-feedstocks including food wastes, manures and algae.
  • The Institut d’innovations en écomatériaux, écoproduits, écoénergies at Universite du Quebec a Trois-rivieres has been part of a major initiative related to bio-oil, i.e., Bioénergie La Tuque (BELT), to produce biofuels from residual forestry biomass.
  • Researchers in University of New Brunswick (UNB) are investigating: reducing bio-oil oxygen content via in-situ catalytic deoxygenation and hydrogen production; the opportunities for using bio-oil and byproducts from fast pyrolysis, such as biochar in asphalt applications.
  • The University of Toronto’s combustion and propulsion research focuses on analyzing the combustion characteristics of biofuels, including pyrolysis oil.
  • The Institute for Chemicals and Fuels from Alternative Resources (ICFAR) at Western University, is one of the major research groups in Canada working on pyrolysis. Their ongoing work includes the conversion of biomass, residues and wastes into value-added products from pyrolysis.

Commercial/demonstration initiatives:

  • Abri-Tech Inc. has been developing biomass pyrolysis and drying technologies since 1988.
  • BioTechFar (BTF) is a biorefinery technology provider for the conversion of biomass into energy and non-energy products through an innovative mechanically fluidized reactor (MFR) pyrolysis process.
  • Arbios Biotech is a joint venture between technology pioneers Licella and integrated forest products company Canfor. Arbios Biotech uses cutting edge technology to convert end-of-life wood and biomass into renewable biofuels and biochemicals. Licella is the global leader in the field of Hydrothermal Liquefaction (HTL).
  • In 2017, ONYM Group, through its subsidiary Pyrobiom Énergies inc. installed its first forest residue recovery plant, a 50 ton/day auger pyrolysis technology, at a softwood sawmill located in Parent, Québec. This project makes it possible to process bark, sawdust and shavings to produce bio-oil and bio-char.
  • Pyrovac is developing, designing and constructing industrial pyrolysis plants for various applications including forestry and agricultural biomass, waste plastics, used tires and bituminous waste materials.
  • Hydrofaction® is Steeper Energy’s proprietary implementation of hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) which applies supercritical water as a reaction medium for the conversion of biomass directly into a high energy density renewable crude oil. Steeper’s first plant in Alberta will specifically focus on the large volumes of forestry waste that would otherwise need to be burned to manage forest fire risk.
  • The City of Vancouver has a hydrothermal processing pilot project underway, using the Genifuel process, that was developed by the USDOE Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. A pilot facility has been planned to convert wastewater biomass solids from treatment plants into biocrude oil that can be refined to a low carbon transportation fuel.
  • Ensyn has provided their RTP technology (fast pyrolysis) for commercial operations in Rhinelander, Wisconsin (3 x 30 – 40 dry tons per day), in Renfrew, Ontario (70 dry tons per day), and in Port-Cartier, Québec (200 dry tons per day). Their major products include food flavourings, renewable fuel oil, and refinery feedstocks.
  • Calgary based plastic producer NOVA Chemicals has partnered with Plastic Energy to transform up to 146 million pounds of scrap plastic each year. Plastic ENERGY uses pyrolysis to make TACOILTM, a branded oil that can be used to make fresh plastic within the context of a circular economy framework.


Research initiatives:

  • The German Biomass Research Center (DBFZ) is running a ‘Biorefinery Laboratory’ consisting of several technologies and a wide variety of equipment around hydrothermal processing of biomass.
  • The main focus of Fraunhofer UMSICHT (location Sulzbach-Rosenthal) is developing the TCR® process,which is based on intermediate pyrolysis. Main focus is on conversion of agricultural residues, such as e.g. digestate, and sewage sludge. The first TCR® industrial demonstration facility was constructed and put into operation within the EU H2020 project TO-SYN-FUEL. Over 500 metric tons sewage sludge were converted into approx. 50,000 litre bio-oil.
  • The research of the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences (HAW Hamburg) in the field of DTL focuses on solvolytic approaches, such as solvolytic reactive distillation (SRD) and solvolytic reactive stripping (SRS). The basic approach of both variants is using a self-regenerating heavy-oil sump phase as a solvolytically acting reaction medium. The SRD process READiTM is commercialized by Nexxoil.
  • There is both research on fast pyrolysis as well as HTL at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). Fast pyrolysis research is focusing on solutions for DTL of (ash-rich) biogenic residues. KIT operates a lab-scale bubbling fluidized bed reactor and a pilot scale twin-screw mixing reactor. The bioliq® pilot unit has demonstrated this technology for both wheat straw and miscanthus as feedstock. Research on HTL has recently focused around lignin degradation pathways/ kinetics to bifunctional monomers and oligomers within a lignocellulose biorefinery, integration with microalgae utilization by extraction of lipids and/or proteins or amino acids, and the fate of nitrogen containing species.

Commercial/demonstration initiatives:

  • Nexxoil’s core technology is an advanced, proprietary physical and chemical process (READi process) for the direct thermochemical conversion of biomass or organic waste (including plastics and sewage sludge) into liquid fuels. The first Nexxoil pilot unit based on waste cooking fat/ vegetable oil is operational in Hamburg/ Germany and a first commercial unit is planned for 2024.

United States:

Research initiatives:

  • RTI International operates a fast pyrolysis pilot plant with a capacity of 1 tonne of biomass per day. In-situ catalytic fast pyrolysis (CFP) is supported by this plant, broadening the range of process conditions and configurations. RTI International has partnered with Topsoe for catalyst development for RCFP and bio-oil upgrading.
  • The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) operates two laboratory fluidized-bed pyrolyzers with in-situ or ex-situ upgrading to catalytic fast pyrolysis (CFP) oil.  For scaling up the pyrolysis/CFP process, NREL manages the Thermal and Catalytic Process Development Unit (TCPDU).
  • Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) manages the Hydrothermal Process Development Unit (PDU). The main reactor is a Modular HTL System, an engineering-scale system that includes process heat integration, continuous product separation, and feed slurry preparation. PNNL has made several innovations in the HTL space, including alternative approaches to completely eliminate heat exchangers.
  • Since 2018, Iowa State University (ISU) has made significant advancements in pyrolysis research and commercialization, focusing on various technologies and collaborations. Two major facilities contain the reactors: the Biorenewables Research Laboratory (BRL) and the BioCentury Research Farm (BCRF). Several pyrolyzers are in operation at the 1-2 kg biomass/h scale, including an autothermal pyrolysis reactor, a free-fall reactor, and an auger reactor.

Commercial/demonstration initiatives:

  • Biogas Energy Ltd. operates an ablative fast pyrolysis pilot plant at an existing organics recycling facility in California. Waste wood will be the proposed feedstock, and upon successful demonstration the commercialization plan is to develop modular systems that can be deployed close to biomass resources.
  • Frontline BioEnergy delivered the final module for Stine Seed Farm’s pyrolysis plant in Redfield, Iowa. This plant utilizes autothermal pyrolysis (ATP) technology – developed by ISU – to convert biomass into biochar, bio-oil, and thermal energy.
  • Genifuel has been advancing HTL technology through the advancement of a HTL demonstration unit known as the CHPDS (Containerized Hydrothermal Processing Demonstration System). The CHPDS has been deployed at several WRRFs for demonstrations across north America. In conjunction with Metro Vancouver, they are beginning fabrication in 2024 of a pilot facility to convert 10 tons of sludge per day into biocrude.
  • Alder Renewables aims to convert solid biomass into transportation fuels by integrating existing fast pyrolysis technology with refinery infrastructure. Their core technology, the Alder Renewable Crude (ARC) process, fractionates pyrolysis oil, removes water, and increases energy density while reducing metals and organic “bad actors” that lead to polymerization in a hydrotreating catalyst bed. They have announced a partnership with Honeywell UOP to commercialize ARC and refinery integration.
  • In 2018, New Hope Energy launched their Trinity Oaks Tyler facility, a pyrolysis plant to convert HDPE, LDPE, Polystyrene, and Polypropylene into pyrolysis oil.  New Hope has formed numerous partnerships, e.g. with Lummus Technology and Dow.
  • Origin materials converts the carbon in wood residues. With an organic solvent under acid conditions and at high temperature, they generate chloromethyl furfural (CMF) and hydrothermal carbon (HTC). The CMF is converted to dimethyl furan and then to PET.

Figure: The Thermal and Catalytic PDU at NREL in Golden, Colorado.