Bio-Based Projects Blossom

Chemical companies nurture efforts to make fuels and feedstocks.

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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The EERC entered into a jv program in January with Syntec Biofuel, Vancouver, B.C., to develop technology to produce butanol from biomass and waste. Syntec already has devised a catalytic thermochemical process that breaks down sustainable low-cost wood and agricultural waste into components that react to form ethanol, methanol, propanol and butanol.

"We have proven our catalyst at the lab scale and so now we need to validate these results in a pilot plant that will be built here [Vancouver]," notes Michael Jackson, Syntec CEO. "It's fairly small, processing 1–3 t./d. of feedstock to give about 300 gal./d. of product. I'd say we have to get six months of results at 24/7 operation before going on to the next level. However, we don't anticipate any unusual scale up problems because the process uses proven gasification and Fischer Tropsch technologies."

Jackson also points to Syntec's work with the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C., to improve catalyst yield. "We are getting 110 gal./t. of product at the moment. About 300 gal./t. is the theoretical maximum but with the University of British Columbia's help we think we can get to about 142 gal./t. That would be incredible."

Glycos Biotechnologies, Houston, is focusing on metabolic engineering and has developed a number of microorganisms that can convert low-value byproducts such as crude glycerin, gums and free fatty acids into higher-value chemicals.

"GlycosBio has a demonstration facility and recently completed a pilot where they proved their proprietary microbial technology to convert glycerin into 13,000 l. of higher-value chemicals and/or advanced ethanol. This success is the precursor to full commercialization which they are working towards in Latin America," says a spokesman.

Accenture, New York City, in a December 2009 report "Betting on Science, Disruptive Technologies in Transport Fuels" cites the company as one of 25 most likely to positively transform the supply-and-demand landscape of sustainable transport fuels and biochemicals within the next five years (see: www.accenture.com/Global/Services/By_Industry/Energy/R_and_I/Betting-on-Science.htm).

Meanwhile, the ChemPro Group, Boonton, N.J., and Mo-Fuel, Sikeston, Miss., have formed an alliance to commercialize a patented process to produce ethanol from cellulosic feedstocks. The route reportedly can handle a full spectrum of such materials, from wood chips and pulp-and-paper-plant byproducts to corn stover, rice straw, grass and even municipal waste. Moreover, its reactor design is said to enable easy addition of extra modular trains to boost capacity.

"The demonstration unit is in final assembly at our shop here in New Jersey and should be available for Mo-Fuel in the next 2–3 weeks. It's a self-contained cellulose hydrolysis unit running a continuous process that converts cellulose into sugars which can be fermented into ethanol. It demonstrates to potential users that we have the ability to make ethanol from their cellulose materials," said Steve Lavorerio, ChemPro's president, in late January. "The process is also economical as an add-on to existing corn ethanol plants. It can process the low-value waste product with the potential to increase yields of ethanol by 15% and improve the value of byproducts by 50%," he adds.

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