Cellulosic ethanol seeks ways to make money from lignin

18 February 2014 20:00  [Source: ICIS news]

ORLANDO, Florida (ICIS)--The ethanol industry is continuing to seek ways to make more money from lignin, the substance that remains from using enzymes to produce ethanol from biomass, an executive with POET-DSM  Advanced Biofuels said on Tuesday.

POET-DSM is developing a 25m gal/year (94m litres/year) ethanol plant in Iowa that will employ an enzymatic process to convert biomass into ethanol.

That plant should be mechanically completed by the start of the second quarter, and start-up should be completed by the end of that quarter, said Steve Hartig, general manager, licencing for POET-DSM. He made his comments on the sidelines of the National Ethanol Conference.

Biomass has three main components, lignin, hemicellulose and cellulose.

Cellulose is a source of six-carbon sugars (C6), while hemicellulose supplies five-carbon sugars (C5).

POET-DSM has engineered yeast that can consume both types of sugars to produce ethanol, Hartig said. That ensures that little sugar remains unused.

However, the company is still left with lignin, which currently has little use beyond a material that is burned for fuel.

To help make biomass-based ethanol more competitive, the industry needs to find a way to earn more money from lignin.

One of the challenges is the potential amount of lignin that can be produced from biomass-based ethanol, Hartig said. The end use must be able to consume such large quantities.

Some research has pointed to carbon fibre as being a potential end market for lignin, Hartig said. However, this end market may be too small to consume all of the lignin that could be produced by cellulosic ethanol plants.

Meanwhile, cellulosic plants can use lignin as a source of renewable energy, which itself can bring some value to the operations, Hartig said.

POET-DSM is a joint venture made up of ethanol producer POET and the Dutch chemical producer Royal DSM.

The National Ethanol Conference lasts through Wednesday.

By: Al Greenwood
+1 713 525 2645

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