Archive for the ‘Biofuels’ category

Turning used cooking oil into biofuels

August 27, 2008

Via Processing Talk: Rising to the challenge of meeting the demand for new eco-friendly fuels, one Spanish company, Bionor, has managed to turn used cooking oil, a potentially hazardous waste product, into biodiesel.

“If not collected, the used oil is generally thrown down drains” says Alfonso Ausin, president and CEO of Bionor. “It eventually finds its way to treatment plants, and oil is one of the most difficult products to treat and eliminate at those plants, so using spent oil to produce biodiesel is environmentally friendly to an extremely high degree”.

Ausin says the annual consumption of used cooking oil at the Bionor plant is equivalent to about 88,185 tons of oil.

Bionor is one of the few companies using used oil for biodiesel production. “There are two reasons for this,” Ausin says: “First, there is a limited supply of used oil, and not all the oil used is collected. The second reason is that it takes a far greater amount of technology and investment to produce acceptable biodiesel from used oil than from virgin oil”.

The used oil collection focuses on two main areas: the restaurant trade and the domestic sector.

Almost all Spanish restaurants have a collection system in place, but the domestic collection industry is in its infancy. The oil is collected mainly by small companies that make arrangements directly with restaurants, bars, schools, factory canteens and so on.

“We’re moving into the oil collection business”, Ausin says “so we not only purchase from other collectors but are now also engaged in the acquisition of several collection companies”.

Bionor was founded more as an environmental company than an energy company. Its original purpose was to take care of collected used cooking oil. “We had to decide what to do with it,” Ausin says: “Biodiesel was the answer, and that’s what we founded the company to do”.

Accordingly, their environmental impact is a very sensitive matter.

“First of all,” says Ausin, “this is an industry that works with environmental concerns, so we have to start by setting an example ourselves.

Major environmental impacts include, for example, the water used in the process. This water has a chemical demand for oxygen of 15,000 ppm, and before it can be discharged into the river it has to be brought down to 100, which is a major challenge.

The other two main points are reduction of water consumption by re-using water to minimise clean water intake, and process improvements to reduce our consumption of catalysts and methanol, which are both expensive and highly contaminating”.

The main challenge at the Bionor biodiesel production plant has without a doubt been to achieve acceptable biodiesel quality from the used cooking oil – a raw material that changes characteristics from day to day. “The biggest challenge is to take that permanent heterogeneity and turn it into a standard fine end product,” says  Ausin.

Bionor is currently operating two biodiesel plants in Spain (Alava) and Italy (Brescia) with a combined output of  137,750 tons. It is constructing five more plants in Spain and Brazil, which will add 990,000 tons of capacity this year.  It is also to invest US$200 million to develop at least 247,105 acres of land into jatropha plantations in the Philippines.

The project is part of Bionor’s strategy to develop plantations on biodiesel feedstocks that do not compete with the food sector or contribute to deforestation.

First U.S.-based cellulosic ethanol plant to be built in Kansas

August 8, 2007

Abengoa Bioenergy has chosen the town of Hugoton in southwestern Kansas as the site of the first U.S. plant to turn crop residue and other vegetation into ethanol. The company will formally announce the $300-million project, which will also include a traditional corn-to-ethanol plant, on Aug. 23.

The traditional plant is expected to produce 85 million gallons a year. The other will produce about 30 million gallons from cellulose.

Cellulose, the main ingredient in a plant’s cell walls, is the world’s most common organic compound. New technology will be used to convert cellulose from “corn stover” — cobs, leaves, stalks and husks — and other sources into ethanol.

Environmentalists say cellulose provides a cleaner, more efficient source of fuel than corn ethanol. It is also seen as a way to ease concerns about adequate grain supplies for ethanol production.

The Hugoton project will be funded in part by a $76 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. In February, the DOE awarded up to $385 million in grants to six companies, including Abengoa, to help develop the first cellulosic ethanol plants. Other plants are slated to be built in Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho and California.

The Kansas Chamber of Commerce has projected that the new ethanol complex will add 120 jobs and $145 million to the state’s economy.

Abengoa Bioenergy is based in Sevilla, Spain. Its North American division, Abengoa Bioenergy Corp., is headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri.

abengoa.jpgAbengoa operates ethanol plants at Colwich (Kansas), Portales (New Mexico) and York (Nebraska). It currently works on the expansion of the Colwich plant and on the completion of a fourth plant, also in Nebraska (Ravenna).

Finally, it is expanding from St. Louis into the neighboring city of Madison, Illinois, with the development of a $200 million ethanol plant. When the plant is completed in 2009, it will employ 50 to 60 people and produce up to 88 million gallons of ethanol each year.

To complete its global reach, the company has also recently expanded its activities to another major player in ethanol, Brazil. It has signed an agreement to buy one of the major companies in the Brazilian ethanol and sugar market, Dedini Agro, for 297 million US dollars.

Getting fuel from fruit…or plastic bags, your pick

June 24, 2007

shutterstock_3578848.jpgThe fructose found in fruit such as apples, or oranges can be converted into a new type of low-carbon fuel for cars.

Biofuel engineers at the University of Wisconsin at Madison write in the journal Nature about their process to obtain a product called DMF, which volume for volume delivers 40% more energy than ethanol. In addition, it is not soluble in water and is stable in storage.

‘Waste’ fuel
Separately, a British report on biofuels says
that the technology now exists to create biodiesel fuel not just from palm oil but from a range of materials including wood, weeds and even plastic bags.
This process is called biomass to liquid.

This new generation biofuels could offer a tenfold reduction in our carbon footprint and use waste by-products of current manufacturing processes, like the chemical industry.

We should not get too happy yet, because there is still the no small matter of their cost. Setting up new production facilities is estimated to be 10 times higher than for current biofuel refineries.

Of termites, algae and microbes

March 14, 2007

The search to derive alternatives to fossil fuels through algae and microbes gains momentum.

Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Program, said a Brazilian newspaper last week that termites host microbes that can transform wood waste into sugar for ethanol production “in an effective and economic way.”

He was referring to studies underway and a lot of investment being spent on termites in the US and Researchers funded by Europeans that are studying tropical insects in laboratories in Kenya. The termite technology could surpass “in a few years” corn and sugar cane-based ethanol, used by the United States and Brazil respectively, Steiner said.

 The promise held by this line of investigation had been voiced many times before, for example, by Steve Chu – a Nobel laureate, no less (see “Termite guts…” a 2005 article at Science Daily).

 Originally uploaded by mini-d

Anyway, as if confirming Steiner´s  words, CNET reported yesterday how LS9, a high-tech fuel company that’s all about imitating nature, has received $5 million in funding. The company hopes to make what it calls “renewable petroleum,” a synthetic version of petroleum and other oil-based industrial products. It could provide more energy, per gallon, than ethanol and less carbon dioxide emissions than gas. 

Some start-ups, such as Solazyme and LiveFuels, have announced plans to produce synthetic petroleum from algae. Fields of algae will absorb carbon dioxide and other compounds and metabolize it into petroleum, the companies said.  Arizona Public Service Company (APS) and GreenFuel Technologies Corporation raise algae and use it to make biodiesel, feeding them carbon dioxide from a natural-gas-fired power plant, Red Hawk, west of

A Spanish start-up, Bio Fuel Systems (web in Spanish only) has also developed a method of breeding plankton and turning the marine plants into oil.  It was formed after three years of research by scientists and engineers connected with the University of Alicante.

LS9 will do something different from what all these companies are doing: it will brew petroleum through synthetic biology, laboratory and industrial processes that can perform the same function as algae or microbes. As a result, production doesn’t rely on live, single-celled creatures. Ideally, this will make the manufacturing process more amenable to performance enhancement or control.

 Algae Originally uploaded by Kimono.

Khosla Ventures is the principal investor in LS9. In a relatively short time, the Khosla firm has invested in a wide variety of companies that concentrate on harnessing the power of synthetic or real biology. But Vinod Khosla, its founder and considered the best venture capitalist in the world by both Forbes and Red ­Herring magazines is hedging his bets in different renewable energies. According to this interview at Technology Review, he thinks CSP (Concentrating Solar Power) makes a lot of sense.

And this brings us to the last trend to be spotted recently, the implication of venture capitalists and Internet barons in renewable energies , as the NY Times has noticed (see their “Business of Green”special and this article about the Silicon Valley RE investment frenzy)

More about cellulosic ethanol and Abengoa Bioenergy

March 7, 2007

As a matter of fact, Abengoa Bioenergy is at the forefront of developments in lignocellulosic ethanol, as it is currently building a 5 million liter per year plant in the Salamanca region of Las Vilas in Spain, which will be the world´s first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant.

The company is taking a multi-pronged strategy to improve ethanol production researching different technologies.

One approach is the alliance mentioned in our previous post with Dyadic International. (see terms of the agreement at Energy – Seeking Alpha)  They have signed a three-year research and development (R&D) agreement and a stock purchase agreement. Under its terms, Abengoa Bioenergy will invest $10 million in Dyadic, for which it will receive 2,136,752 shares of Dyadic Common Stock.

Dyadic will use the proceeds from this private sale to fund R&D obligations called for in the agreement, whose objective is the development of a cost-effective enzyme production system for commercial application in Abengoa Bioenergy’s bioethanol (cellulosic ethanol) production process. The R&D agreement calls upon Dyadic to use its proprietary technologies to develop one or more enzyme mixture manufacturing systems customized to ABRD’s proprietary biomass substrates.

Dyadic International, Inc. is engaged in the development, manufacture and sale of biological products using a number of proprietary fungal strains to produce enzymes and other biomaterials, principally focused on a system for protein production based on the patented Chrysosporium lucknowense fungus, known as C1.

Dyadic is applying its technologies to produce enzymes for use in converting various agricultural products (e.g. corn) and waste products (e.g. switch grass, wheat straw, sugar cane bagasse, etc.) into fermentable sugars, which can then be used in the production of traditional and cellulosic ethanol as well as other products currently derived from petroleum. It has identified and tested highly effective enzyme mixtures for the efficient conversion of renewable cellulosic biomass to ethanol. The C1 genome has been sequenced, which will reduce the time required to bring a specific gene to market from years to months.

Besides this effort, Abengoa is already working with the U.S. Department of Energy in other complementary technologies. The D.O.E. and Abengoa Bioenergy R&D signed a 4-year, $35.5 million contract in 2003.

Under this contract Abengoa Bioenergy R&D, in collaboration with Novozymes North America, Inc., the National Renewable Energy Laboratory [NREL], and Stake Technology, is developing novel biomass-derived process technology that utilizes advanced bio-refined Distiller’s Grain and Corn Stover blends to achieve significantly higher bioethanol yields while maintaining the protein feed value.

As for its expansion plans in the US, it is currently building  a 88 milion gallon per year corn ethanol manufacturing plant in Nebraska that is scheduled for completion in early 2007. The company has already invested a total of more than $400 million on ethanol in that state.

There are plans to build “copycats” in Kansas, Indiana and Illinois. That series of projects will begin in the second quarter of 2007 with a $175 million to $180 million Kansas plant.


Ethanol plant in York, Nebraska. Courtesy of Abengoa Bioenergy

Cellulosic ethanol and gasification

March 7, 2007

Last week, six companies were awarded by the DOE $385 million in grants aimed at jumpstarting ethanol production. Surprisingly, half of the projects chosen will use a gasification process first discovered almost a century ago.

Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial & Environmental Section, congratulated the companies, saying: “The grants will help bring more ethanol motor fuel to the pump within the next few years, reducing both our reliance on imported oil and our emissions of greenhouse gases. Furthermore, these grants will bring thousands of new jobs to rural economies in Idaho, Iowa, and Kansas, where new biorefineries will be built. This is a win for consumers, a win for our rural economies, and a win for the environment.

The awards can match up to 40 percent of the companies’ funding with federal grants, allowing both construction of new biorefineries and expansion of existing ethanol refineries to include large-scale cellulosic processing units.

Erickson continued, “Federal government cost-sharing for the construction of these large-scale biorefineries to convert cellulosic biomass to ethanol and other useful consumer products is a critical step toward bringing recent industrial biotech breakthroughs to the market”.

But the other winner here was gasification (see more here). Right now, it is a more expensive technology intensive process than current methods, but the DOE is apparently hoping that it might also provide a faster and more versatile way to produce ethanol or other from biomass.

A gasifier turns plant material into a synthesis gas consisting mostly of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The “syngas” then could be turned into a variety of fuels including ethanol, hydrogen and environmentally friendly versions of diesel or gasoline.

So, the breakdown of the grants awarded goes like this:

Cellulosic ethanol:
– Iogen
– Broin (together with Dupont and Novozymes)
– Alico Inc.
– Range Fuels Inc.

Cellulosic ethanol and gasification: 
Abengoa Bioenergy, with its technology partner Dyadic International. It received a $76 million matching grant to construct a new facility producing 11.4 million gallons of ethanol from cellulose in Colwich, Kansas. It would use both biochemical and thermochemical processes to convert corn stalks, wheat straw and switchgrass.

By the way, when I mentioned yesterday some the “raw materials” that may be converted to ethanol, I was, apparently, forgetting quite a few. Some of the companies that won awards will also be using citrus peels, wood chips, yard waste and wood waste/timber scraps.  

I guess that with this I am risking being sent some other 2 thousand examples of products that might be converted to ethanol (we could turn it into a contest)

Ethanol from garbage?

March 5, 2007

We have been told that you could get ethanol from switchgrass, agricultural waste, even sawdust and paper pulp and now the latest: from plain and pure garbagerecycle.jpg.

World Waste Technologies, Inc.  today announced it has filed a provisional patent covering an energy self sufficient process for the treatment of municipal solid waste (MSW) into the production of mixed alcohols (including ethanol) through a synthetic gas and catalyst process. The process also includes the co-generation of renewable electricity.