"We have created an empty bay in the facility so someone can bring in their own pretreatment reactor or other equipment required for biochemical biomass conversion. Companies can use part of our system or they can use their own technology and we can run it in parallel with ours. That way, they can see if their system is better than ours," says Ashworth.
"Industry partners can come in and try whatever they might have in mind from a very mild pretreatment to a very strong pretreatment and the system is set up for that," he adds. "The high-solid enzymatic hydrolysis reactors sit directly beneath the pretreatment reactors. All of this allows us to really push the limits of how you can use the system and still get to sugars."
The facility can handle virtually any type of biomass feedstock, from corn stover and wheat straw, to hardwoods and even industrial waste streams. Moreover, notes Ashworth: "The IBRF is not restricted to one end fuel. The technology here will work just fine if someone wants to make butanol or take lignocellulose and go to jet fuel or diesel. All of these technologies on the biochemical side use pretty much the same front-end treatment and enzymatic hydrolysis equipment."
"There is no set fee or minimum cost. The building and equipment are owned by the government, so there is no charge for their use. We ask firms to reimburse us for supplies and for the time of the engineers, scientists and research technicians working on their project," says Ashworth. Small-scale pretreatment screening experiments or compositional analysis of key samples could cost as little as $5,000 to $10,000 while a large multi-year cooperative research-and-development agreement could run into the millions of dollars.
Developers of biofuels technology ranging from small startups to large established companies should welcome the IBRF.
Mark Rosenzweig is Chemical Processing's Editor in Chief. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org