CelloFuel Portable Biomass Refinery

The CelloFuel Portable Biomass Refinery produces sugars or ethanol from biomass. Our first project is producing Larch Arabinogalactan (LAG) from larch wood chips in the US and Canada (tamarack), Russia (Siberian larch) and China (Dahurian larch). We're working on using these same vacuum infusion technologies to produce polymeric sugars, monomeric sugars and ethanol from sugarcane, sweet sorghum, sugar beets, wood chips and straw. The polymeric sugars include galactoglucomannan and nanocellulose, and the monomeric sugars include glucose, fructose, mannose and xylose.

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Technology Overview

The CelloFuel technologies produce sugars and ethanol from biomass near where the biomass is grown, eliminating the cost of transporting biomass to a more centralized location.

The CelloFuel technologies can be scaled to industrial sizes, but are equally efficient at a farm-scale. Our initial product is a farm-scale product that is scaled up by replicating to hundreds of modules in parallel.

CelloFuel modules infuse reagents into sugar-rich feedstocks, optionally depolymerizing lignin, optionally depolymerizing hemicellulose, and extracting the polymeric and monomeric sugars with semi-batch counter-current extraction.

The CelloFuel modules are optionally arranged in a series of 4 to 8 modules to do semi-batch counter-current extraction of sugars. Each module uses patented vacuum cycling with enzymatic hydrolysis to speed up extraction of sugars from biomass to the bulk liquid.

The CelloFuel modules can optionally ferment the monomeric sugars to ethanol inside the biomass. The CelloFuel modules produce hydrous ethanol at 80% to 95% Alcohol By Volume (ABV). This can be used to produce potable ethanol, fuel for motors and fuel for cooking. This hydrous ethanol can be transported to a central refinery for further production of transportation fuels or higher-value chemicals.

Uses for Larch Arabinogalactan

Larch Arabinogalactan has many uses and has been approved worldwide for human consumption and as a component of animal feed. About 1000 tons per year are produced worldwide. To become widely used in animal feed (to replace antibiotics) it needs to be produced less expensively. The CelloFuel technologies can produce Larch Arabinogalactan (LAG) from larch wood chips less expensively than existing production technologies, with higher purity.

Mechanical Design

The CelloFuel Portable Biomass Refinery is made from multiple CelloFuel modules, each made of a vertical HDPE pipe. The pipes are loaded by rotating the pipe around its center of gravity on a trunnion. The rotation of the pipes is used for loading and unloading biomass.

CelloFuel modules are inexpensive vacuum vessels that use food-grade materials - HDPE and stainless steel. They can be rapidly assembled close to where biomass is harvested.

A CelloFuel module is designed for very low-cost manufacturing, and can be assembled and disassembled with hand tools - a screwdriver and a wrench. An inexpensive gasket is used to seal the end caps with the corrugated HDPE pipe. The end-caps, central girdle and trunnion require some metal cutting, metal rolling and a bit of welding to manufacture, everything else can be made with a metal saw and a drill. The trunnion does not need a bearing. When disassembled, multiple CelloFuel modules can be efficiently transported in 20 ft. shipping containers.

The top and bottom of the HDPE pipe are joined with stainless steel plates. When using oxalic acid with softwood, these are made from type 444 stainless steel, which is resistant to corrosion by oxalic acid (as is HDPE). The top cap has a lid that can be lifted off the HDPE pipe for biomass loading and unloading. Multiple HDPE pipes are mounted in rows so that they can be loaded and unloaded efficiently and used for semi-batch counter-current extraction.

No Scale-up Risk

A CelloFuel module is a single vertical HDPE pipe rotated about the center of gravity with a trunnion. Scaling up to larger scales involves simply replicating the HDPE pipes in arrays, and distributing these arrays of CelloFuel modules to where the biomass is grown. We expect this to scale up to the tens of thousands of CelloFuel modules, which is why we work hard to ensure low-cost manufacturing of each CelloFuel module.

Patent Status (June 25, 2019)

There are three families of CelloFuel patents for making sugars and ethanol that have been granted in the US and around the world, including the US, EU, Canada, Russia, China, Mexico and Brazil.

Project Status (June 25, 2019)

A 1/3 scale model of the CelloFuel module has been successfully built, and we're beginning construction of a full-size CelloFuel module that is 1 m in diameter and 6 m high (with a build cost less than $2,000). The 1/3 scale model has a volume of 1/2 m3, where the full-size CelloFuel module is 5 m3. Here are some pictures of vertical orientation, horizontal orientation, the top cap and the trunnion. CelloFuel Vertical Orientation CelloFuel Horizontal Orientation CelloFuel Top Cap CelloFuel Trunnion

This is for testing rotation, biomass loading (tilted at 45 degrees) and unloading (tilted at 135 degrees). We've tested with 1800 W of heat using double reflective insulation and found that this is very efficient and cost-effective.

A vacuum test of 12 kPa with this CelloFuel module was successful, with no leaks. The top cap has been assembled and installed, and the CelloFuel module holds a vacuum and does not leak when filled with water and rotated while filled with water under vacuum. This means it withstands 2.5 times the maximum loading.

Here is a video of the 1/3 scale CelloFuel module with top cap rotating around the trunnion.

Here is a video showing cutting the metal plate for the top cap with a plasma cutter.

We are doing lab-scale tests of dilute oxalic acid hydrolysis with this test apparatus:

CelloFuel Lab-Scale Apparatus

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