Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wood to Syngas to Methanol, Plus Seaweed Ethanol

In Soperton, Georgia (USA), Range Fuels has instituted a multi-phase plan to produce methanol from wood and grass, which can then be used to produce biodiesel.
The first phase of the Soperton Plant operations employs Range Fuels’ two-step thermochemical process, which first gasifies non-food biomass such as woody biomass and grasses into syngas. In the second step, the syngas is passed over a proprietary catalyst to produce methanol, which can then be converted in an additional reactor to ethanol.

The Soperton Plant will initially use woody biomass from nearby timber operations, but plans to experiment with other types of renewable biomass as feedstock for the conversion process, including herbaceous feedstocks like miscanthus and switchgrass.

Range Fuels plans to expand the capacity of the plant to 60 million gallons of cellulosic biofuels annually with construction to begin next summer. The Soperton Plant is permitted to produce 100 million gallons of ethanol and methanol each year.

...During phase two of the project, currently slated for mid-2012, Range plans to expand production at the Soperton plant and transition from a methanol to a mixed alcohol catalyst, according to the EPA report. _GCC
As better catalysts to produce butanol from syngas are developed, the higher-value alcohol should come into more common use as a fuel additive for both gasoline and diesel.

Seaweed -- or macro-algae -- can be harvested up to 6 times a year, which makes it a very prolific form of biomass. It can be grown in salt-water ponds virtually anywhere the sun shines.
Scientists from Tohoku University and Tohoku Electric Power Co. have developed a technology to efficiently generate ethanol from seaweed such as sea tangle and sea grape, group members said Saturday.

The technology uses natural yeast discovered by the group as well as a new fermentation method, according to the group led by Minoru Sato, professor of marine biochemistry at Tohoku University _JapanTimes
Since seaweed is considered a pest weed in many areas, its use as a cash crop should spur economic development among a wide range of the socioeconomic strata. Japan is not the only country looking at seaweed as a biomass crop:
The idea of using seaweed for ethanol is also being researched in Korea and the Philippines, as well as in Chile. One of the benefits to using seaweed as an ethanol feedstock are that it grows quickly and allows for as much as six harvests per year. Also, since seaweeds do not have lignin, pretreatment is not necessary before converting them to fuels, making it potentially less expensive than other cellulosic sources._DomesticFuel
Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand, and a number of other maritime nations and island nations are also looking closely at the use of macro-algae for fuels, chemicals, plastics, feeds, and other products.

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