Plans to turn UK household waste into biofuels could see savings of up to three million car emissions annually.

The UK Carbon Trust has created a consortium of British businesses led by Axion Energy to pioneer the development of a commercially viable process to turn municipal and wood waste into transport biofuel. 

The consortium will work on the enhancement of a process called pyrolysis to process waste biomass to produce a greener and cheaper alternative to existing biofuels at mass scale, to blend with fossil fuels.

Current UK legislation in the guise of the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RFTO) requires all forecourt petrol and diesel to contain a 3.25% blend of biofuel, with a European Union (EU) directive stipulating this must rise to 10% by 2020.

The Carbon Trust estimates that turning waste into biofuels through a technique known as pyrolysis could supply more than half of the EU 2020 requirements.

A source familiar with the process emphasised that processing the waste did not involve burning, but instead organic material is heated so it does not combust. The process also means less landfill having to be used and thereby avoids the generation of methane gas. The Trust believes this system could achieve a carbon saving of 95% compared to fossil fuels.

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The consortium aims to produce its first biofuel from a pilot plant in 2014 and there is potential, using UK biomass alone to scale production to more than 2 million tonnes per year. This will generate a saving of seven million tonnes of carbon, which is the equivalent to the annual emissions of three million cars.

“Many biofuels such as those from waste, have the potential to provide significant carbon reductions,” said UK transport minister Sadiq Khan.

“The challenge is identifying and developing those biofuels which deliver the most environmental benefits.

The UK Department of Transport and the Department of Energy and Climate Change will contribute GBP7m (US$10.7m) to the project.

“Genuinely sustainable biofuels will be critical to help reduce the UK’s transport emissions,” said Carbon Trust chief executive Tom Delay. “By developing a method which overcomes the issues associated with some existing biofuels, the UK has a vital role to play.  In just a few years pyrolysis could change the way in which we produce biofuels and by 2020 be a commercially viable option.”

The consortium, which comprises Axion Energy, Catal International Ltd, CARE Ltd and Aquafuels Research include complementary technical capabilities spanning the complete pyrolysis-to-fuel supply chain.

Alongside the Axion consortium, Carbon Trust is also announcing a £500,000 research grant for the University of York to conduct earlier-stage R&D into a process to use microwaves to pyrolyse waste. 

This offers greater energy efficiencies and could also provide high quality oil which could lead to pure biofuel being used in cars.