Ethanol Biorefining Innovations

There are many biorefining innovations taking place in the ethanol industry. During the 25th Annual Ethanol Conference, three company representatives discussed the research and technologies they were implementing or studying to increase the value of the ethanol production process.

Steve McNinch with Western Plains Energy said his company is looking at how to move into the advanced biofuels category of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2). The biorenfinery, which produces ethanol from sorghum (milo), is currently installing technology to produce methane. His plant is also researching anaerobic digestion technologies that convert waste to energy. In addition, the plant is adding methane technology that will allow the plant to stop using natural gas as its electricity source and improve the ethanol’s carbon intensity score.

You can view Steve McNinch’s presentation here and also listen to his remarks: click here: Ethanol and AD Integration to
Produce Advanced Biofuel

There are several ways you can make your biorefinery more efficient whether you operate a corn ethanol plant or a milo ethanol plant.  Dough Rivers with ICM presented one way you can get from first generation corn to second generation cellulose while using the same biorefinery infrastructure. The first way to get from a dry grind plant is to start doing some things to recover more of your starch to convert more of your targeted end product. ICM has developed a Selective Milling Technology that bolts onto the current plant and increases both ethanol yield and corn oil yield. The company is also developing a fiber separation technology. From here you can start thinking about converting fiber to ethanol and collecting cellulosic RINs (Renewable Identification Number). Today ICM is testing its technologies in its pilot plant and expects to be offering the ethanol industry bolt-on cellulosic technologies soon.

You can view Doug River’s presentation here and also listen to his remarks: click here: ICM Pathway from Gen 1 Ethanol to Gen 2 Ethanol

Highwater Ethanol is one of the last ethanol facilities built in the U.S and the biorefinery is looking at moving into advanced biofuels via isobutanol (biobutanol). CEO Brian Kletscher discussed the current challenges and opportunities with isobutanol. Today ethanol plants have financial pressures, marketing challenges and a cap on first generation ethanol in the RFS2. The industry needs a solution and Highwater Ethanol believes isobutanol is one solution. That is why they signed on as an early adopter with Butamax. Isobutanol has several advantages over ethanol: attractive gasoline blending opportunities; it enables the refineries to increase the use of gasoline out of a barrel of oil up to three percent; it also has some advantages in its molecule. Now that Highwater Ethanol is on board with the technology, its next step is to pursue permitting and begin retrofitting in 2013.

You can view Brian Kletscher’s presentation here and also listen to his remarks: click here: Highwater Ethanol Review of Isobutanol

Gevo Ships First Biobased Isobutanol from Minn. Plant

Next-generation biofuels and renewable chemicals producer Gevo, Inc. has shipped its first batch of biobased isobutanol from its production facility in Luverne, Minnesota.

“We are laser-focused on our startup at Luverne,” said Patrick Gruber Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer of Gevo. “With the completion of our offerings last month, we have the funding in hand to complete the next phase of our strategy. That strategy builds on our successful startup at Luverne.”

“Our outstanding team started up the plant on schedule, and is well into the learning that startups of new technologies bring,” said Dr. Gruber. “We’ve achieved some major milestones having produced and shipped isobutanol from this plant so quickly. So far, the startup is going about as expected; it’s a lot of hard work and very rapid learning. Producing isobutanol is great, but learning to produce it day in and day out, becoming a reliable supplier, is what we have to learn next. I’m awed by the skill and dedication of our team executing this startup operation. Their experience has always been the basis for our confidence in commercializing our highly valuable technology. I’m pleased with what has been accomplished so far.”

Gevo is in the business of converting ethanol plants into its renewable energy and chemical refineries.

Cobalt & Rhodia to Build Biobutanol Plant

Cobalt Technologies and Rhodia, a member of the Solvay Group, is partnering to develop and operate a biobutanol demonstration facility in Brazil. The plant will use Cobalt’s technology to convert bagasse (sugarcane by-product) and other local feedstock into bio n-butanol, which can be used as both a transportation fuel or industrial chemical.

“This agreement puts us on a clear path towards commercialization, which will result in the development of the first commercial-scale biorefinery using bagasse as a feedstock for the production of biobutanol,” said Bob Mayer, CEO of Cobalt Technologies. “We are very pleased to be working with Rhodia. Our corporate values and goals are aligned and Rhodia’s experience in the global chemical markets and long history of success in Latin America position us well for success.”

Work on the construction of the demonstration facility will begin in August 2012 and will be moved to a sugar mill site in early 2013 for testing. Operational testing is expected to be completed by Mid-2013.

Vincent Kamel, president of Rhodia Coatis Business Unit, added about the partnership, “We are convinced that Cobalt’s technology will provide an unmatched cost advantage over the long term, while also enhancing our sustainable development strategy related to our Augeo range of biosourced solvents. We look forward to our continued partnership, working closely with Cobalt to capitalize on the massive market opportunity for bio n-butanol in Latin American and beyond.”

Butamax expands Biobutanol Early Adopters Group

Four additional plants have joined the Butamax™ Advanced Biofuels Early Adopters Group (EAG), indicating their interest in biobutanol production.

According to the company, Platinum Ethanol LLC of Arthur, Iowa; Little Sioux Corn Processors of Marcus, Iowa; Granite Falls Energy LLC of Granite Falls, Minnesota; and Siouxland Ethanol of Jackson, Nebraska have joined the EAG, which was launched in December 2011, bringing the total membership to seven plants, with ethanol production capacity totaling approximately half a billion gallons per year.

The four new ethanol plants to join the EAG, along with the previously announced EAG members, are all Fagen/ICM-designed facilities constructed by Fagen, Inc. “Biobutanol is an exciting next step in the evolution of biofuels and presents a significant opportunity for companies such as ours to produce and market a higher-value product and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Ron Fagen, owner of Platinum Ethanol LLC and Chairman of Fagen Inc.

Butamax & Fagen Cement Colloboration

Butamax has entered into a partnership with Fagen Inc. The pair will work together to introduce commercial scale biobutanol using Butamax technology.  Fagen, an engineering company, has designed and or built more than 85 ethanol plants totaling nearly 6 billion gallons of ethanol production per year.  The goal of the two companies is to ramp up production of biobutanol.

“We are delighted to partner with Fagen on our path to commercialize biobutanol,” said Paul Beckwith, Butamax CEO. “Fagen is simply the world leader when it comes to project execution in the biofuels industry, with leading standards for safety and quality. Our shared commitment to renewable energy makes Fagen a natural partner for Butamax and our shareholders.”

Last December Butamax announced the formation of an Early Adopters Group (EAG), a group of international production companies looking to become the first to adopt Butamax biobutanal technology.  The company has several pilot projects underway to convert various feedstocks including corn and sugarcane to biobutanol.

Aaron Fagen, CEO of Fagen, added,  “Butamax offers an exciting opportunity for ethanol facilities to leverage their existing assets to produce the next generation biofuel. We look forward to working with Butamax in the deployment of their commercial strategy and their first retrofit project starting in 2013.”

Cobalt Forms New Bio n-Butanol Partnership

The Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD) is in the final stage of a biojet fuel project using bio n-butanol produced by Cobalt Technologies. Albemarle Corporation, a chemical company, will use NAWCWD technologies to process Cobalt’s fuel into renewable jet fuel. The project is underway in Albemarle’s Baton Rouge, Louisiana processing facility.

Dr. Michael D. Seltzer, head of NAWCWD’s Technology Transfer Program said its production run of Cobalt’s bio n-butanol is proving to be another attractive pathway to create sustainable jet fuel for both the military as well as commercial aviation.  “We are proud to be working in partnership with Cobalt and Albemarle to create this renewable jet fuel and we look forward to testing the end result.”

The project is funded by NAWCWD and was launched in February 2012. Once completed the bio jet fuel will be tested by the U.S. Naval Air Warfare Center – Aircraft Division as part of the process to achieve military certification for the use of the fuel. The next step after testing will be to engage in larger production runs and additional test flights.

“This is a significant milestone not only for our collective team, but for the greater industry looking to advance sustainable jet fuels,” commented Bob Mayer, CEO of Cobalt Technologies. He added that it has been a pleasure working with the U.S. Navy to advance testing and are pleased with the choice of Albemarle as their processing partner.

Butamax Granted Patent for Iso-Butanol

butamax Butamax Advanced Biofuels LLC, has been granted patent number 8,129,162 for production of iso-butanol from biological resources.

This latest patent was issued from a series of applications covering modified KARI enzymes that optimize production of biobutanol by Butamax’s proprietary microorganisms. These microorganisms are engineered with the isobutanol biosynthetic pathway invented by Butamax that includes five enzymatic steps that convert sugar to isobutanol. The KARI enzyme performs the second step of the pathway which is fundamental to achieving high biobutanol yield. This latest invention is essential to best cost of manufacture position.

Since 2003, the Butamax team has pioneered new technology innovations in order to offer the most cost-effective production of biobutanol for the transportation fuels market. The company will continue its commitment to innovation in the areas of biocatalyst, engineering design and end-use applications to deliver maximum value to licensees.

“With these new KARI enzymes, we have achieved a significant improvement in performance, which is necessary for low-cost commercial production of biobutanol,” said Paul Beckwith, Butamax CEO. “We are pleased that our research team continues to be recognized for their innovation in biobutanol technology. Their work has led to the only cost-effective retrofit option that enables existing ethanol manufacturers to produce drop-in biofuels.”

Cobalt Demonstrates Biomass Treatment Process

Cobalt Technologies has announced a milestone in the commercial conversion of biomass to sugars with the successful demonstration of its biomass pretreatment process.

The company, which is developing next generation n-butanol, made the achievement in cooperation with ANDRITZ, a globally leading supplier of technologies, equipment and plants for the pulp and paper industry.

Cobalt conducted the testing in the ANDRITZ pulp and paper mill demonstration facility in Springfield, OH, which is specifically designed to validate new processes before commercial-scale implementation. Cobalt’s dilute acid hydrolysis pretreatment process, which extracts sugars from ligno-cellulosic biomass, was validated on woody biomass, bagasse and agricultural residues.

Cobalt tested its pre-treatment process on both a batch and continuous basis and reports that these runs, while processing up to 20 bone-dry tons of biomass per day, successfully extracted sugars from the biomass without the use of enzymes to produce the desired liquid hydrolysate – a liquid-based sugar that is then converted into n-butanol.

“The hydrolysates produced at ANDRITZ’s demonstration facility have been fermented successfully at our facility in Mountain View, California without the need of any conditioning to remove inhibitory compounds,” Bob Mayer, CEO of Cobalt Technologies. “By proving we can meet, and in some areas, exceed our commercial targets and cost metrics at this scale, we are now well positioned to leverage this critical milestone to support our on-going commercialization efforts.”

This milestone also marks the first phase of Cobalt’s partnership with specialty chemical company, Rhodia in Brazil to develop bio n-butanol refineries throughout Latin America utilizing bagasse as a feedstock.

Biofuel and Chemicals Made from Wood Biomass

Researchers at Aalto University in Finland have developed a method using microbes from wood biomass to produce butanol suitable for biofuel and other industrial chemicals. Butanol is particularly suited as a transport fuel because it is not water soluble and has higher energy content than ethanol.
Until now, starch and cane sugar have been the most commonly used raw materials in butanol production. In contrast, the Aalto University study used only lignocellulose, otherwise known as wood biomass, which does not compete with food production.

Another new breakthrough in the study is the successful combination of modern pulp and biotechnology. Finland’s advanced forest industry provides particularly good opportunities to develop this type of bioprocesses.

Wood biomass is made up of three primary substances: cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin. Of these three, cellulose and hemicellulose can be used as a source of nutrition for microbes in bioprocesses. Along with cellulose, the Kraft process that is currently used in pulping produces black liquor which already can be used as a source of energy. It is not, however, suitable for microbes. In the study, the pulping process was altered so that, in addition to cellulose, the other sugars remain unharmed and therefore can be used as raw material for microbes.

When wood biomass is boiled in a mixture of water, alcohol and sulphur dioxide, all parts of the wood – cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin – are separated into clean fractions. The cellulose can be used to make paper, nanocellulose or other products, while the hemicellulose is efficient microbe raw material for chemical production. The advantage of this new process is that no parts of the wood sugar are wasted.

In accordance with EU requirements, all fuel must contain 10 percent biofuel by 2020. A clear benefit of butanol is that a significantly large percentage – more than 20 percent of butanol – can be added to fuel without having to make any changes to existing combustion engines. The nitrogen and carbon emissions from a fuel mix including more than 20 percent butanol are significantly lower than with fossil fuels. For example, the incomplete combustion of ethanol in an engine produces volatile compounds that increase odor nuisances in the environment. Estimates indicate that combining a butanol and pulp plant into a modern biorefinery would provide significant synergy benefits in terms of energy use and biofuel production.

Butamax Signs First ‘Early Adopter’ Agreement

butamaxButamax Advanced Biofuels has entered into an agreement on commercialization principles with Highwater Ethanol, a leading ethanol producer based in Lamberton, Minn.

Butamax, a leading global biobutanol technology development company, is working to offer current ethanal producers proprietary biobutanol technology to permit improved biofuels growth and plant profitability.

“We are developing relationships with a group of early adopters. These facilities are among the most efficient, well managed facilities in the United States. Their knowledge and expertise are a complement to the commercialization of Butamax technology,” said Peter Matrai, COO of Butamax.

ethanol plant
Highwater Ethanol is the first entrant to the Butamax Early Adopters Group. Their ICM-designed facility was constructed by Fagen with a nameplate capacity of 50 million gallons per year.

Biobutanol is a high performing drop-in biofuel that can be blended at higher concentrations than ethanol, without the need for infrastructure changes. At 16 percent volume, biobutanol delivers twice the renewable energy content of 10 percent ethanol blends.

Last year, Butamax announced the addition of a technology laboratory in Paulinia, Brazil to accelerate process development efforts for producing biobutanol from sugarcane. In addition, the Butamax technology demonstration facility in Hull, England is producing biobutanol to support design of commercial facilities.