INEOS Bio making little cellulosic ethanol at US plant

Al Greenwood

05-Sep-2014

INEOS Bio making little cellulosic ethanol at US plantHOUSTON (ICIS)–INEOS Bio is making very little ethanol at its cellulosic plant in Florida because its gasification process is producing too much hydrogen cyanide (HCN), which is contaminating the synthesis gas it is feeding its anaerobic bacteria, according to documents obtained on Friday by ICIS.

INEOS Bio now plans to install three towers that will scrub and strip the HCN from the synthesis gas (syngas), according to a document from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. INEOS Bio had applied for a permit to install the towers.

The document does not say when INEOS Bio could start or finish the project. Nor did it say how much the project would cost.

INEOS Bio did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The company developed the plant with its joint-venture partner NPE Florida.

When the company opened the plant, it was the largest cellulosic plant at the time, with the capacity to produce 8m gal/year (30m litres/year).

The company started commercial production in July 2013.

Unlike many cellulosic plants being developed, INEOS Bio did not use an enzymatic process to extract the sugars from biomass.

The enzymatic process produces C5 and C6 sugars as well as lignin. While the sugars can be converted to ethanol, the lignin cannot, and it is typically burned as a fuel for the plant.

INEOS Bio’s process can potentially convert much more of the biomass’s carbon into ethanol because it relies on a gasification process, which does not leave left-over lignin.

Under the gasification process, the company gasifies the biomass, producing syngas, which is a mixture of carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen.

It feeds the CO to anaerobic bacteria, where the gas is fermented to produce ethanol.

Other companies are also developing gasification process to produce renewable fuels and chemicals. Depending on their gasification technology, INEOS Bio’s HCN problem could presage potential challenges just as its scrubbers could offer a solution.

While INEOS Bio troubleshoots its plant, POET-DSM Biofuels opened its 20m gal/year cellulosic ethanol plant in Iowa, which uses an enzymatic process to extract sugars from biomass.

The company is a joint venture made up of DSM and POET.

DuPont and Abengoa are also developing cellulosic ethanol plants that rely on enzymes.

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