Monday, October 18, 2010

Two New Gasification Biomass_to_Alcohols Plants

Ineos Bio is opening a new plant in Indian River County, Florida, to produce biomass to ethanol via gasification and catalytic conversion. The process can be expanded to add any number of new high value chemical products to the line in the future -- depending upon the catalytic conversion processes used.

Maverick Biofuels is building a biomass-to-mixed-alcohols plant in North Carolina, based upon a similar approach. Biomass is gasified to syngas, which is catalytically converted to C2-4 olefins, and then to C2-4 alcohols. The mixed ethanol-propanol-butanol product is a higher value fuel additive than pure ethanol, with a higher energy density.

The decision to use gasification plus catalytic conversion to produce alcohols rather than attempting to break up the cellulose / hemicellulose into sugars, and then ferment the sugars to alcohols, is an economic one. Gasification and catalytic technology is a relatively mature technology, in comparison to technologies which will be used to dismember cellulose and ferment the mixed sugars to alcohols.

In the long run, microbial approaches will probably prove more economical than high temperature approaches such as pyrolysis and gasification, due to lower energy requirements. Greenhouse gas laws, mandates, regulations, taxes, and penalties will also likely play a part in the calculation -- much to the detriment of the underlying economy.

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