Green transportation

Green methanol on the verge of a breakthrough

Biogas can be converted into the green fuel methanol using a new method capable of converting 95 per cent of the biogas without adding hydrogen, making green methanol much cheaper to produce than before.

From Lemvig Biogas's large plant in the background, biogas is transported to the white domes and on to DTU's reactor in the blue container. Here the first green methanol has been produced. Photo: DTU
“I do believe we’re the first ever to demonstrate that you can produce methanol from biogas.”
Associate Professor Philip Fosbøl DTU Chemical Engineering

The key word is flexibility

The large biogas plants have generally focused on producing biomethane for the gas grid. The technology DTU researchers are working on here is also intended for small biogas plants that cannot send their biomethane into the gas grid. Instead, they are forced to burn the biogas for heat or electricity production.

There are also biogas plants that are located at too great a distance from hydrogen producers, and therefore do not have the opportunity to convert CO2 into biogas via hydrogen input. There are many such plants not only in Denmark, but also in Germany, where there are about 10,000 of these smaller biogas plants, and here the new technology can be extremely attractive, says Philip Fosbøl. For the DTU researcher and his colleagues, it has been crucial to create a methanol plant that was flexible, because future needs can change quickly.

“Our plant is designed to operate in a future where you adapt to changing needs. We can operate with different feed gasses and switch very quickly.”

This means you can sometimes utilize the entire biogas, so both methane and CO2 are converted to methanol, sometimes you can only produce methanol from the methane, and other times you can choose to make methanol only from CO2, while the methane is utilized for gas production. This makes it incredibly flexible, explains Philip Fosbøl.

If biogas cannot be disposed of for the gas grid, there will also be a need for storage. And converting the biogas into liquid in the form of methanol is an obvious solution, as it occupies a much smaller volume, and then the biogas plants themselves can store the fuel over a longer period of time.

Methanol produced from biogas is much cheaper than traditional e-methanol produced from CO2 and hydrogen. But it is still more expensive than methanol produced from coal and natural gas. One solution that Philip Fosbøl envisions is to tax black methanol for a period of time, making it more expensive than green methanol. In this way, green methanol can become profitable to produce, and as production methods are developed, green methanol will become competitive on normal market terms.

Biogas is a product of, among other things, decomposed household waste. Photo: Colorbox

Next steps

The methanol plant that is now up and running is a demonstration plant. This means that it is no longer just on a laboratory scale, but has "moved into reality”, as the DTU associate professor phrases it. It can produce 400 litres of methanol daily if it runs 24/7, but the daily production has been less than 100 litres because production has only run during the daytime.

“The big breakthrough is that we’ve been able to do this without any breakdowns,” states Philip Fosbøl, who explains that the longest continuous production period has been 72 hours. The next milestone will be production for 500 hours straight.

The plant at Lemvig Biogas can convert 10 m3 biogas per hour. The next step will be upscaling to 200 m3 per hour, equivalent to a full-scale commercial facility. But this requires large-scale support.

“The research project we have carried out has a budget of just under DKK 20 million, but the next scale-up can easily cost in the region of DKK 100 million, so it’s obviously something that requires public support,” says Philip Fosbøl.

The project has so far been supported by the Danish Energy Agency’s Energy Technology Development and Demonstration Programme (EUDP), which have included three partners in addition to DTU. Pentair Union has headed the construction of the processing plant, while the demonstration plant is built by Elplatek. Lemvig Biogas has supplied biogas to the demonstration plant.

When DTU’s technology is fully developed, it will be able to produce up to 60,000 tonnes of methanol from a typical large Danish biogas producer. With an annual requirement of 750,000 tonnes of methanol for Maersk’s future fleet of 25 methanol-powered container ships, it will require a large number of biogas plants just to cover this need.


The transportation sector is emitting more and more CO2 from cars, trucks, planes and shipping. To reverse this trend, more of the known solutions and technologies need to come into play.

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