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Pitch

The cellulose molecule, sugar and lignin, has been unobtainable until now. An old technology makes the sugar available for biofuels.


Description

Summary

For decades, man has been aware that nature's own polymer, cellulose, made of lignin and monomer sugars, would be the most convenient source of energy. Many techniques have been invented to pry this tough molecule apart with some success, but generally always at high cost, a lengthy process and consuming large amounts of chemicals or thermal energy and generating considerable quantities of waste. Acid hydrolysis, alkali hydrolysis, supercritical water, enzymes and steam explosion are methods that have all been frustrating and to-date, a losing battle.

A few years ago, a NASA scientist, Dr. Richard Blair, was working with uranium and ball mills. He noticed black powder, uranium oxide in the mix and realized that chemistry was going on in the mill, which, until this point had only been known as a way of making powders out of minerals for the chemical, mining and cosmetics industries. The ball mill is a 150 year old invention consisting of a cylinder containing ball bearings and rotated. Any material introduced into the cylinder is ground by the continually colliding ball bearings until it is reduced to very fine powder with particle sizes of 5 nm and a huge surface area.

Having realized that chemistry was indeed occurring in the ball mill, Dr. Blair experimented with many different materials to see if other chemistry could be effected. One important outcome was the realization that cellulose and common clay as a catalyst can be spun for less than 15 minutes reducing the cellulose it to its constituent components, sugar and lignin. Optimization found that use of the lowest energy input converts 80% of the cellulose in 12 minutes. Unconverted material goes into into the next batch. Sugar goes into solution in water, while the lignin floats and the clay falls to the bottom. The resulting sugars, obtained at about $0.05 per lb. can be fermented into many products, but in particular into ethanol or butanol for less than $0.90 per gallon.


Is this proposal for a practice or a project?

Practice


What actions do you propose?

The EPA (still) says that transportation contributes 27% of the US carbon emissions into the atmosphere and is the single fastest growing segment of emissions but number 2 to electricity generation. Globally the number is 14% of human caused GHGs from transportation. The EPA recognized the potential importance of cellulosic biofuels by generating mandates for carbon neutral ethanol to be blended into national liquid transportation fuels. Cellulosic ethanol, by definition, presented the least carbon-intensive, prospective biofuel and consequently was the most desirable to obtain. It set up a system of Renewable Identity Numbers (RINs) which are credits paid by blenders to the producers of the biofuel. Since cellulosic ethanol was very difficult to come by, the fossil fuel companies blending ethanol into gasoline were forced to pay fines for not blending it or acquire cellulosic RIN credits which are currently selling for more than $3.00 per gallon. This sum normally falls into the hands of the entity producing the biofuel as the incentive for its production. Corn ethanol, which is generated not using the cellulose of the plant but by using the starch rich food of the corn kernel, commands a lower priced RIN credit and represents over 94% of the ethanol currently generated in the US. This is the major source of ethanol blended into the US transportation fuels, which amount in total to almost 200 billion gallons a year.


Who will take these actions?

The EPA is likely to continue to keep the RIN credit system running but it’s important to state that the Alliance BioEnergy Plus cellulosic process is economic, even without the subsidy. Alliance are now moving forward to commercialization of the process at scale.


Where will these actions be taken?

They are headquartered in West Palm Beach, have a pilot lab at Orlando and also a new plant at Vero Beach. Florida and California will be the main initial states for starting this new cellulose to sugar (CTS) process.

Apart from the US, any country willing to engage in a country wide exclusivity license will be able to negotiate this with Alliance BioEnergy Plus.


In addition, specify the country or countries where these actions will be taken.

United States


Country 2

No country selected


Country 3

No country selected


Country 4

No country selected


Country 5

No country selected


Impact/Benefits


What impact will these actions have on greenhouse gas emissions and/or adapting to climate change?

Use of cellulose puts food back on the plate, while the plant, the part with the previously locked up sugar, now can be turned into myriads of products. Plant biomass grows at a rate of about 55 billion tons worldwide every year. We only need to use a tiny proportion of this in each country to make a difference. Currently 40% of the American corn harvest is exclusively grown for corn ethanol production. The corn plant, the non food part, makes up to 5 times more sugar than the corn food. This means that 40% of plants can make 50% of the total liquid transport fuels volume. Forget ethanol and instead ferment the sugars into isobutanol, a carbon neutral fuel, which has the same energy per unit volume as gasoline and is today made by companies from corn, albeit expensively. Now add in the 60% of the corn harvest dedicated to food. Normally the corn plant is left to rot or chipped and ploughed back into the field. If used in this CTS process, the corn harvest plants alone could replace fossil gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel. What if we add in other agricultural plants such as sugarcane, soy, barley, wheat, vegetable crops, citrus and forestry. There is an abundance of annual cellulose production and most agricultural economies can expect to replace their fossil fuel requirement with a carbon-neutral alternative and improve their economics. It would take time to adopt the change in approach but this solution is realistic, not fictitious and scales well.


What are other key benefits?

The process reduces fuel costs and replaces fossil fuels with a carbon neutral, drop-in-replacement fuel. It makes cheaper air travel without pollution possible at last. It stops petrodollars in their trillions being sent to oil exporting countries and each of those countries can also benefit from this same process. Additionally, fossil fuel externalities such as pollution, climate, bad subsidies, health consequences, waste, commodity price volatility and 


Costs/Challenges


What are the proposal’s projected costs?

Currently and without optimization, it appears possible to generate a gallon of ethanol and possibly butanol for less than $1.00.  A pound of sugar goes for $0.14 per pound in the commodities markets but can be made for a cost of $0.05 per pound or lower by the CTS process.


Timeline

The company will take a year or less to install its first commercial scale reactor in Florida. For a more general application with the goal of addressing climate change it would obviously take longer, but this of course would be an economically led endeavor.


About the author(s)

Alliance BioEnergy Plus is a publicly quoted company based in West Palm Beach, Florida. They are a strategically practiced management who have a firm grip on their emergence of using cellulose to sugar (CTS) to manufacture many products. It’s the biofuel product that is so capable of making a massive fossil carbon reduction.


Related Proposals


References

Mechanocatalytic Depolymerization of Lignocellulose Performed on Hectogram and Kilogram Scales.

Marcelo D. Kaufman Rechulski, Mats Kaldstrom, Udo Richter, Ferdi Schüth, and Roberto Rinaldi

Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung, Kaiser-Wilhelm-Platz 1, D-45470 Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany.  April 6, 2015.

DOI: 10.1021/acs.iecr.5b00224

 

Deciphering ‘water-soluble lignocellulose’ obtained by mechanocatalysis: new insights into the chemical processes leading to deep depolymerization.

Mats Käldström, Niklas Meine, Christophe Farès, Ferdi Schüth and Roberto Rinaldi

DOI: 10.1039/c4gc00004h

 

Solvent-Free Catalytic Depolymerization of Cellulose to Water-Soluble Oligosaccharides

Niklas Meine, Roberto Rinaldi and Ferdi Schüth

DOI: 10.1002/cssc.201100770