CelloFuel Portable Biomass Refinery

We develop the CelloFuel Portable Biomass Refinery, for producing low-carbon bioethanol from sugar beets, sugar cane, sweet sorghum, and softwood forestry residues. Our goal is to disrupt the bioethanol market by making bioethanol at a much lower cost than existing technogies while at the same time producing bioethanol with less carbon intensity. Key markets are California, Germany, Sweden and Finland, which have higher prices for low-carbon bioethanol.

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Reduces Carbon Intensity

We reduce the carbon intensity of producing bioethanol by reducing fossil fuels used for:

  • transporting biomass - by producing bioethanol near the source of the biomass
  • separating sugars from biomass - by not using counter-current extraction, crushing or steam explosion
  • producing fertilizer - by using residues to fertilize land
  • distillation energy - by combustion of biomass residues or bioethanol for distillation energy

Our technology is carbon negative if bioethanol is used for harvesting equipment, electric generators and distillation energy, and if residual biomass is returned to the land. Residual sugar beet pulp can be plowed into the land for soil nutrition and residual wood chips, cane and sugar beet tops can be burned to produce biochar for soil nutrition.

Government mandates and incentives influence the economics of reduction of carbon intensity, but it is economically viable for the CelloFuel technologies to be carbon negative (carbon sequestration). This makes it possible to convert softwood to bioethanol deep in the boreal forests, which are the largest sources of renewable non-food biomass on the planet.

Technology Summary

CelloFuel technologies produce bioethanol from biomass by infusing reagents under vacuum or pressure into biomass. These technologies perform different combinations of dilute acid hydrolysis, solid-state fermentation with yeast, and a patented biomass distillation method.

All of these technologies use environmentally friendly reagents. For softwood, the reagents are oxalic acid with calcium hydroxide neutralization and a yeast mixture (Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Zygosaccharomyces bailii). For sugar-rich crops, the reagent is yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae). No sulphuric acid, hydrochloric acid, or sodium hydroxide is used, making it possible to significantly reduce residue treatment costs and burn residual biomass to produce energy for distillation.

Target markets for low-carbon ethanol

  • from sugar beet: California, Germany
  • from sweet sorghum: California, India, China, Mexico, Spain, Italy
  • from softwood: California, Canada, Sweden, Finland

Produces hydrous ethanol

The CelloFuel solution produces hydrous ethanol at 80% to 95% ABV, with an integrated low-cost distillation column. 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.

Technical approach to negative-carbon bioethanol

The major use of energy in producing negative-carbon bioethanol is distillation energy, and harvest equipment and electricity generation require significantly less energy. Distillation energy can come from low-temperature combustion of residues (sugar cane, sweet sorghum, softwood forestry residues, air-dried tops of sugar beets) with carbon returned to the ground to sequester it (and as soil nutrition).

Distillation energy can also come from the ethanol from sugar beets. Using the produced bioethanol for distillation energy takes about 15% of the produced bioethanol. The higher heating value of E90 ethanol is 26.8 MJ/kg and the distillation energy is about 4 MJ/kg (lower if lower concentrations produced). Similarly, if the harvesting equipment and generators use E90 as a flex fuel, this eliminates the need for using any fossil fuels to produce bioethanol.

Patent Status (September 24, 2018)

There are four families of CelloFuel patents that have been granted in the US and around the world, including the EU, Canada, Russia, China and Brazil. We are now licensing these technologies and providing engineering consulting for profitable implementation of these technologies.

Reduces water usage

CelloFuel modules produce more water than they use when producing bioethanol from sugar beets, sugar cane and sweet sorghum. CelloFuel modules also use very little water when making bioethanol from softwood forestry residues. This is important in places like India where water is a limited resource. Water will be one of the most important resources in the 21st century, so reducing water utilization when producing bioethanol is important.

Converts sugar-rich biomass to ethanol near the harvest site

CelloFuel modules cost-effectively convert sugar-rich biomass to ethanol near the harvest site. Crops are harvested as usual, sugars are converted near the harvest site to hydrous ethanol, and then the remaining biomass is fed to animals, burned for energy, used for anaerobic digestion or applied to land as fertilizer.

Reduces transportation costs of biomass

One of the major costs of producing ethanol from biomass is the cost of transporting the biomass to the biorefinery. Biomass has low bulk density and is costly to transport, especially in remote areas where the cost of the biomass is low. Conversion to ethanol where the biomass is grown (farms, forests) is an efficient way to reduce transportation costs.

Reduces cost of capital to produce ethanol

The CelloFuel modules have a very low cost of capital per liter (or gallon) of ethanol produced per year.

Reduces scale-up risk

The CelloFuel reactor is a 1 m3 reactor, multiple reactors are packaged into standard shipping containers. Multiple containers are then located near the source of the biomass. The process parameters are optimized for a single reactor, and scale-up risk is mitigated by simply replicating these reactors.

Multiple feedstocks

CelloFuel modules can produce ethanol from most sugar-rich biomass, including sugar beets, sugar cane, sweet sorghum and softwood residues.

What we are also doing, and why

Our patented pressure cycling technologies are also useful for making other valuable products from softwood. We are working on extracting rare sugars from softwood, such as mannose, arabinogalactan and glucomannan, all of which sell for more than $10/kg. In addition, we are working on extracting nanocellulose from softwood, which has a very high value for use in the oil industry as a component of high-temperature drilling mud. Lastly, we are working on enzymatic hydrolysis of negative-cost waste paper to produce ethanol or nanocellulose.

We are also exploring using very low doses of cellulosic enzymes (1 FPU/g) to augment the sugars produced from dilute acid hydrolysis of softwood hemicellulose, but this will only succeed if future cellulosic enzymes are more cost-effective.

What we are not doing, and why not

We are not doing enzymatic hydrolysis of crop wastes, not making ethanol or sugars from hardwood, not using dilute acid hydrolysis of cellulose and not gasifying biomass and trying to make products from syngas. We believe that these technologies are unlikely to ever be profitable.

When biomass is a negative cost feedstock (i.e. municipal solid waste or waste paper), these technologies might be profitable (i.e. Enerkem), but sugar rich crops and forest residues will never be negative cost feedstocks.

What industries are likely to be disrupted?

California (with the Low Carbon Fuel Standard), Germany and Sweden (with blending mandates based on carbon intensity) have made it more profitable to make low carbon ethanol and less profitable to make high carbon ethanol (like corn or wheat ethanol). This makes it easier for a low carbon ethanol such as CelloFuel more competitive in California, Germany and Sweden than corn or wheat ethanol. Finland, France and Canada may also introduce blending mandates based on carbon intensity.

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