Cellulosic Ethanol Could Produce Sugar Substitute

Instead of making ethanol from sugar, SunOpta of Canada is working on making a sugar substitute from ethanol.

sunoptaSunOpta subsidiary SunOpta BioProcess Inc. (SBI) has been awarded $5.5 million (Canadian) in funding from Sustainable Development Technology Canada to develop an integrated cellulosic ethanol plant and co-located xylitol production facility in the Greater Toronto area.

The fabrication of valuable co-products is expected to allow biofuel producers to increase their profitability and competitiveness. SBI and its partners have developed an integrated process that will produce both food grade xylitol — a healthy sugar substitute — and fuel grade cellulosic ethanol, therefore increasing the economic and environmental sustainability of cellulosic ethanol production. Using wood chips as feedstock, the technology is projected to decrease process water consumption by up to 75% compared to producing corn ethanol while retaining all of the life-cycle carbon benefits inherent to cellulosic ethanol.

Promoting Freedom at AG CONNECT Expo

Sunbelt BiofuelsIn the growing field of biomass conversion to fuel there’s a plant that Mississippi State University thinks will help farmers and all Americans. It’s Giant Miscanthus and you can follow it on Twitter @GiantMiscanthus. They’ve actually licensed the product which is Freedom Giant Miscanthus that’s being marketed by Sunbelt Biofuels LLC. On the show floor at AG CONNECT Expo last week to talk about it were John Holmes (l) and Sunbelt’s Chairman Phil Jennings (r).

Phil says they’re taking the product commercial for MSU. He says they’ve been in the turf grass business for years and this new product caught their attention. He says they’re off to a great start and expect to see a lot of acres signed up in the next couple years as the demand for cellulosic ethanol production increases. John says Freedom is a play on words to denote the ability to become independent of foreign produced oil. Phil says “We know of no other plant that is a perennial, that is renewable as fast as it is that can give us the masses of biomass that we’re looking for.” He says Freedom provides four times the yield per acre of switchgrass.

You can listen to my interview with Phil and John below:

AG CONNECT Expo Photo Album

Cellulosic Ethanol Power Plant for Kansas

mid kansas electricAbengoa Bioenergy and Mid-Kansas Electric Company are planning to develop the nation’s first commercial-scale hybrid cellulosic ethanol and power plant in Kansas.

Announced this week
, Abengoa Bioenergy Hybrid of Kansas will be “a sustainable solution that will diversify electric generation in Kansas and help power the state’s growing demand for energy using Abengoa Bioenergy’s state-of-the-art, integrated bio-refinery technology and Mid-Kansas’ service capabilities.”

“As an international energy company, we believe this project is an important part of our continual growth in bioenergy,” said Javier Salgado Leirado, president and CEO of Abengoa Bioenergy. “Advancing this project required the perfect match of agricultural resources, technology, and a utility partner—all present in our partnership with Mid-Kansas. The agreement terms allow us to move forward with the project and bring significant investment to Kansas.”

The facility will be constructed at a cost of $550 million and have the capability to generate electricity and produce cellulosic ethanol. The cellulosic ethanol facility will produce 15 million gallons of ethanol per year and use corn stover, wheat straw and switchgrass as fuel inputs. The plant will use 2,500 tons of biomass daily to produce ethanol and electricity. Start-up operations are expected in 2012.

Iogen Makes Cellulosic Ethanol Gains

Iogen Corporation is moving cellulosic ethanol closer to commercial reality.

IogenThe Canadian company produced over 581,000 liters (153,484 gallons) of cellulosic ethanol in 2009, more than double its 2008 production. That brings the company’s total cumulative production to more than one million liters since 2004, heading cellulosic ethanol into the realm of viable commercial production.

“Advanced renewable fuels such as cellulosic ethanol will play a critical role in meeting future energy demands, and Iogen is playing a vitally important role in the commercialization of this technology,” says Gordon Quaiattini, President of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association.

Miscanthus Rhizome Root Harvester & Planter Unveiled

While researchers continue work on miscanthus’s viability to produce cellulosic ethanol, and growers now have a way to plant and harvest the feedstock more efficiently. After years of collaboration and research, a miscanthus rhizome regeneration harvester and planter system has been developed. The unveiling took place during the Bioenergy Feedstocks Symposium held at the University of Illinois (U of I). Typically, miscanthus is a labor-intensive crop requiring multiple machines, and costly manual selection and grading – but not any longer.

itcsjs10_609xThe new machine is the result of a three-year collaboration between U of I, Tomax Ltd and Bermuda King USA. According to a news release from U of I, this machinery can lower the cost of miscanthus rhizome production by up to 40 percent and create opportunities for miscanthus to be used more widely as a high-yield bioenergy crop.

Gavin Maxwell, Tomax Ltd Senior Bioenergy Consultant, said, “Bioenergy feedstock processors require security for supply and unless we dealt with regeneration and planting issues for miscanthus, we simply couldn’t make progress. The collaboration team had a very clear objective when beginning the design process of the harvester and planter. Our goal was to remove manual labor, integrate the digging and grading process, increase soil separation and improve both quality and volume to substantially reduce the cost of vegetative rootstock propagation.”

In recent U.S. trials, the machine has demonstrated a 200 percent increase in rhizome collection over manual systems. this allows, says the research team, the opportunity for regional nurseries to more efficiently expand to meet the demand for both solid and liquid fuel conversion. The harvester and planter package will be available beginning this year and will be available for expanded grower crops in time for the 2011 season.

Southeast Poised to be Leader in Energy Crops

The Southeast is poised to be the leader in energy crop production according to University of Florida Associate Professor and energy crops expert Dr. John Erickson. He has been focusing on research of perennial grasses, mostly C4 grasses in his work with the Agronomy department. These can include sugarcane, energycane, elephant grasses, miscanthus, giant reed, switchgrass and sorghum.

sugarcaneIn terms of output, in the short-term, sugarcane and sweet sorghum look promising. Current studies put sweet sorghum on par with corn in higher latitudes where it is a little colder. In the longer-term, cellulosic feedstocks such as energycanes and elephant grasses are producing upward of 40 megagrams per hectare. These grasses are selected for their fiber content – they don’t have high juice or sucrose contents that sugarcanes do but the yield more biomass.

Perennial grasses offer several advantages, said Erickson, including not having to plant the crops every year so you don’t have renewable annual planting costs and they tend to be a little more efficient in water and nutrient use.

If a grower chooses to grow a perennial crop, that becomes the crop for that land area, explained Erickson. Therefore a grower JEricksonmust commit to a longer-term commitment when they grow perennial grasses. “Some of that will be dependent on how they incentivize, or even if, they incentivize carbon credits and whether or not agriculture has the potential to be involved in that. And so if that becomes a reality then perennial grasses will be viewed more favorably than something like sorghum. If they don’t, than sorghum may do just as well or better than some of these others because they can be worked into rotation with current existing crops.”

Erickson stressed that the results are still in their early stages and crops typically do better in the second year. It will be a year or so before the final results are published, but in general, he notes that perrienal grasses look like they have good potential as energy crops.

AG CONNECT Expo Photo Album

Listen to my in depth interview with John here.

New Enzyme Could Help Cellulosic Ethanol Production

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have created a new enzyme that has the potential to create plants that are easier to convert into cellulosic ethanol.

“Increasing the ‘digestibility’ of plant matter is one main approach to making plants a viable alternative energy source,” said Brookhaven biochemist Chang-Jun Liu. Plants with less lignin in their cell walls are easier to break down and convert to fuel products.

The next step will be to see if it works in plants. The scientists will engineer plants with the gene for the new enzyme to see if it reduces the amount of lignin in the plant cell walls.

“Since we know less lignin makes cell walls easier to digest, this may be an effective biochemical approach to engineering plants for more efficient biofuel production,” Liu said.

Read more here.

Mascoma Appoints William Brady as CEO

mascoma_logoEffectively immediately, William J. Brady has taken over the helm as the new CEO for Mascoma Corporation. In addition, Brady will also join the Boards of Directors of Mascoma and Frontier Renewable Resources. He brings to the organization 23 years of experience at Cabot Corporation in various positions including Executive Vice President and General Manager of several operating divisions.

Brady will work with the Mascoma team to help achieve technical and commercial milestones, including continuing to reduce costs for ethanol produced from cellulosic feedstocks, developing additional partnerships for Mascoma’s commercial-scale ethanol project in Kinross Township, Michigan and creating strategic joint ventures to commercialize Mascoma’s proprietary Consolidated Bioprocessing (CBP) technology for production of advanced biofuels and chemicals.

In a press statement, Bruce Jamerson, Chairman of Mascoma and Frontier Renewable Resources stated, “I am delighted to introduce Bill Brady as the new CEO of Mascoma and to work closely with him on achieving our goal of full scale commercial production of cellulosic ethanol. Bill has extensive experience running large commercial divisions for a major chemical company, which is exactly the skill set we need as Mascoma transitions into a commercial enterprise.”

Cellulosic Ethanol Demo Plant to Open in TN

DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol (DDCE) and University of Tennessee/Genera Energy will hold a grand opening celebration later this month for one of the nation’s first cellulosic ethanol demo plants, located in Vonore, Tenn.

BredesenAmong the featured speakers at the grand opening on January 29 will be Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, who helped with the groundbreaking for the plant in October 2008.

The facility is expected to begin producing fuel ethanol from both agricultural residue and bioenergy crops prior to the grand opening. The 74,000-square-foot facility has the capacity to produce 250,000 gallons of ethanol from corncobs and switchgrass and is preparing for commercial production by 2012.

Dyadic International’s Investors Win Big in ’09

According to an article in the Palm Beach Post, Dyadic International, based in Jupiter, Florida, made a huge comeback in 2009 when investors saw their stake increase by 1,253 percent during 2009. Dyadic was featured in the newspaper’s best and worst performers of 2009 for companies based in Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties Florida. In the biofuels space, Dyadic is best known for its enzymes that are used to convert biomass to glucose.

Last year, the company announced a licensing agreement with Abengoa Bioenergy to sell its patented C1 Technology Platform for the large-scale production of enzymes for use in manufacturing biofuels. They also announced a multi-million licensing agreement with Codexis, Inc in November.

Dyadic Founder and CEO Mark Emalfarb. Photo from TCPalm.com.

Dyadic Founder and CEO Mark Emalfarb. Photo from TCPalm.com.

However, these recent successes did not come without hardship. As reported by the news media, in 2007 company founder, chief executive and largest shareholder, Mark Emalfarb, was forced out. Emalfarb once again took the company helm in 2008, although the outlook was much starker. During his absence, the stock price nearly dissapated and the shares were dropped from the American Stock Exhange and relegated to the Pink Sheets. But akin to the American success story, Emalfarb turned his company around with several big deals in 2009 and now they are poised as a leader going into 2010.

“With all the clouds lifted, people are seeing the sky very clearly — and it’s blue,” Emalfarb said in the Palm Beach Post. “Shareholders recognize the incredible, miraculous recovery we’ve made, and they’re rewarding us. We obviously are drinking our Kool-Aid.”