First up is the most familiar name, Coskata. A couple months ago the company had expected to close on a deal to build a 100 million gallon annual plant using sugar cane bagasse. The deal is yet to finalize, which comes as no surprise today. The technology is gasification of the bagasse, or the cellulose remaining after the sugar is squeezed out. The plant would need 32,500 acres to supply the feedstock or 51 square miles, some thing over 7 miles square around the plant. Coskata is shopping for a partner to add investment to a planned plant in Australia that would produce 53 million gallons annually (mgy) outside of Victoria.

Range Fuels uses a gasification-to-ethanol process to convert wood chips to cellulosic ethanol. Range announced in 2008 that it secured an $80 million loan guarantee through USDA that will contribute towards financing of its 100 mgy wood-waste cellulosic ethanol plant. Scheduled to open in early 2009, there have been delays, and the plant will now open in 2010. In November of 2008 founder Mitch Mandich stepped down after raising $180 million in debt guarantees and equity. The new CEO is David Aldous, former Executive Vice President of Strategy and Portfolio for Shell. Range says, “Over 15,000 hours of testing has been completed on over 30 different non-food feedstocks with varying moisture contents and sizes, including wood waste, olive pits, and more. The technology has been tested and proven in bench and pilot-scale units for over eight years.”

Choren, a German company opened its 5 million gallon annual plant expecting to get to full capacity in 18 months or so. Choren has a proprietary gasification process called Carbo V that runs at high heat then converts the carbon monoxide and hydrogen output into synthetic diesel fuel. Choren is reported to be studying construction of a 71 mgy plant near Brandenburg Germany and plans on a joint venture with Norske Skog for another 71 mgy advanced biofuels plant using wood.

Another major researcher, Dynamotive Energy, is partnering with Great China New Energy Technology for launching a plant in Henan province. Hubei Xinda Bio-oil Technology is the on site developer. The Chinese companies suggest that the starting capacity will be in the 6 – 10 mgy range. Dynamotive’s agreement specifies a $2.3 million technical support fee.

Ze-Gen from Massachusetts has a syngas facility based on gasification. Using wood debris and other solid waste streams as feedstocks, the company utilizes steel industry techniques to generate the high temperatures for gasification. The demonstration scale facility is processing up to one ton of waste per hour, while a full-scale plant would process up to 30 tons per hour. The company’s process involves dropping waste into superheated liquid iron, which frees hydrocarbons and breaks them into a syngas of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. January saw the company announcing that it has raised $20 million in Series B funding from Omaz Zawawi Establishment, Flagship Ventures, VantagePoint Venture Partners and the Massachusetts Technology Development Corporation. The company says the process can create syngas from construction and municipal waste at a price of $6 per million BTUs.

A totally new idea, using algae for the feedstock is the premise for Sustainable Power. The company uses “nanobacteria,” whatever they mean by that, as catalysts. The algae biomass is then used in a fast pyrolysis process. Another proprietary method called “Rivera Process” its quite quick producing the syngas, bio-oil and char in just seconds. The idea is mimic the geological pattern that makes fossil fuels. The bio-crude is said to offer substantial promise not only for its use of low-impact, sustainable. carbon-neutral feedstocks, but because it can use the existing refining, marketing and distribution system of the petroleum industry.

Bio-crude has support from the major oil companies, investors and policy makers. Shell and Chevron are known to be researching and developing bio-crude. Meanwhile LS9, UOP, Syntroleum, and the LiveFuels consortium are squarely chasing the Sustainable Power lead.

The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology says it’s developed a $2.49 biofuel by using pyrolysis on wood waste and straw. Referred to as a “bio-liquid,” it’s produced by heating to 500 degrees C in a vacuum to gasify, then is heated further to 1400 degrees C for a catalytic conversion into synthetic diesel, hydrogen or methanol fuels. The Institute says that they will construct a pilot plant to open in 2012. The economic modeling of the facility is said to forecast production of 272 mgy. That would be a mighty big plant.

The solid production is in Canada where Enerkem has begun the startup of its waste to biofuel plant in Westbury Quebec. The plant completed in December of 2008 after only a 14-month construction period. Rated at a small 1.3 mgy a year, the feedstock is used utility poles. The company says it is in the money at 95 gallons of ethanol per ton of utility poles. Meanwhile the success has made possible a partnership with the City of Edmonton to convert about 30% of its solid waste to ethanol with Enerkem and Greenfield Ethanol. The process is heating then a catalytic conversion.

Bioengineering Resources is now running a 40,000-gallon per year pilot plant. Partnering with Ineos, Bioengineering Resources, they said last July that they will have a commercial-scale municipal waste-to-ethanol plant operational by 2011. Ineos says that waste conversion technology is cost competitive with other ethanol production techniques, and is generating 105 gallons of ethanol per ton of waste. According to the Financial Times, “BRI has been running a very small demonstration plant, capable of producing about 150,000 liters of ethanol a year in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Ineos believes the process is ready to be scaled up to plants producing about 100,000-150,000 tons per year. A ton of ethanol is roughly 1,250 liters. The process works by taking organic waste, converting by gasification then feeding the gases to bacteria that convert them to ethanol.”

That’s the active companies that make the news I’m checking. Other bits are that money is coming to research in places such as Iowa State University and that the UK’s Carbon Trust has $10US million dollars to fund pyrolysis research.

High temperature processes like pyrolysis and gasification are good ways to reuse and recycle the carbon from biomass. The efficiency war and market share issues are coming. Some of these will grow, some perhaps not. The only technological question is where to get more hydrogen and so use more of the carbon for producing richer hydrocarbon products. You have to admire the innovation, for example, who would have though to drop biomass into molten iron?


6 Comments so far

  1. An Investors Quick Check of Pyrolysis and Gasification For Fuel b…/b : Science and Technology News on February 25, 2009 2:05 AM

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  2. on February 26, 2009 9:07 AM

    An Investors Quick Check of Pyrolysis and Gasification For Fuel Production…

    First up is the most familiar name, Coskata. A couple months ago the company had expected to close on a deal to build a 100 million gallon annual plant using sugar cane bagasse. The deal is yet to finalize, which comes as no surprise today. The technol…

  3. Anders Neld on March 11, 2009 3:38 AM

    I’m missing Chemrec that in December raised an additional $20 million in venture capital. In 2008 Renew, a major EU-funded study of alternative fuel technologies, concluded that Chemrec’s technology for gasification of black liquor is by far the most cost efficient route to second generation automotive fuels. In 2005 a Eucar/Concawe/JRC study concluded that Chemrec’s technology has both lower fossil CO2 emissions and lower well-to-wheel energy requirement compared to other technologies.

    Chemrec has a first generation commercial black liquor gasifier up and running in New Bern, North Carolina, and a second generation development gasifier i Piteå, Sweden. The company is currently building the world’s first plant for production of BioDME for use in Volvo trucks.

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  6. Alpha Fuel X on September 5, 2014 5:35 AM

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    An Investors Quick Check of Pyrolysis and Gasification For Fuel Production | New Energy and Fuel

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