Transport and Handling

The toxicity of biomass pyrolysis liquids formed at low temperatures

By Stefan Czernik (NREL) of report (NREL/TP-430-22739) by James P. Diebold (Thermalchemie), USA


The scale-up of biomass fast pyrolysis systems for production of liquids will expose an increasingly large number of personnel to bio-oil. Although fast pyrolysis technologies that are optimised for high yields of liquids are relatively new, slow pyrolysis processes have been used for many centuries to produce charcoal and liquid by-products such as food preservatives and flavours and wood distillates. Although wood smoke, wood distillates and fast pyrolysis oils have a different quantitative composition, they contain a large number of the same components. Thus the existing studies on the health and safety aspects of acute and long-term exposure to traditional wood pyrolysis liquids can be useful in assessing bio-oil. This summary is taken from an in-depth review of the health and safety aspects of pyrolysis liquids that was carried out for the IEA Bioenergy Pyrolysis Activity, NREL and Natural Resources Canada. It is published by NREL. (NREL/TP-430-22739).



The aim of this project was to comprehensively assess toxicity and biodegradability of a representative bio-oil after preliminary screening of a wide range of bio-oils from different processes and temperatures in order to:

  • Identify the best operating conditions avoiding or minimising the formation of toxic products from the composition of the bio-oils;
  • Produce a comprehensive and definitive MSDS with the proper preventative and remedial procedures to adopt during production, transport and use of bio-oils;
  • Produce and transport fast pyrolysis bio-oils with low impact on human health and environment by avoiding bio-oils production presenting potential toxic characteristics.

Sponsor: European Commission DG TREN


  • CIRAD, France. Coordinator: Philippe Girard;
  • Aston University, Birmingham, UK;
  • Institute for Wood Chemistry, Germany.

The project was completed in June 2005

Please find below links to the results of the Biotox project. Click on the link to view the relevant files.

One of the aims of the BioTox project was to propose a Material Safety Data sheet validated by a European expert (Dr Mueller-Department of industrial toxicology, Fribourg – Switzerland). This MSDS is based on data of studies performed within BioTox and bibliographic works, following the request of bio-oil producers and purchasers as no updated public MSDS was available.

A version of Bio-oil MSDS is available in pdf format (see below) on a purely informative basis. It is also available as a “word” file and has to be filled in (blue section) by all producers or users. Please contact CIRAD (M. Joel Blin – CIRAD Biomasse Energie) to receive a copy.

Neither the partners of the BioTox project (CIRAD F., Aston University UK, Institute of Wood Chemistry G.) nor the European Commission is responsible for the use which might be made of the following information: