Syntec biomass-to-alcohol process continues to improve yield

Syntec Biofuel Inc. (Syntec), the Canadian company developing biomass to fuel conversion technologies, has announced that it has achieved a yield of 105 gallons of alcohol (ethanol, methanol, n- butanol and n-propanol) per ton of biomass. This is not far short of their target is 113 US gallons per ton of biomass (previous post).

According to Syntec this yield is equivalent to revenues in excess of $27 million per year for a 300 ton per day biomass processing facility. Michael Jackson, President of Syntec made the following statement:

We are consistently seeing monthly improvements in our Biomass to Alcohols (B2A) process. This level of achievement makes the B2A process profitable in relatively small scale facilities using a wide variety of waste biomass feedstocks in any combination.

The Syntec B2A technology, initially developed at the University of British Columbia, is a second-generation cellulosic ethanol production process. The Syntec process parallels the low-pressure catalytic synthesis process that has been used by methanol producers.

Syntec’s innovative technology uses any renewable waste biomass such as hard or soft wood, sawdust or bark, organic waste, agricultural waste (including sugar cane bagasse and corn stover), switch-grass to produce syngas. This syngas, comprised of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, is then scrubbed and passed through a fixed bed reactor containing the Syntec catalysts to produce ethanol, methanol and higher order alcohols. The Syntec technology can also produce alcohols from biogas (sourced from anaerobic digestion of manure and effluent), landfill gas or stranded methane.

Recent media coverage on ethanol produced from agricultural crops, such as corn, has prompted an international questioning of the ethics and “hidden costs” of such alternative fuels.

Syntec technology only uses sustainable waste biomass to produce its biofuel. We believe strongly that fueling the worlds energy needs can be achieved without further impact to our environment, and that we possess the best and most ethical solution to bio-ethanol production.

This is the type of ethanol production process I like to promote because fuel produced from sustainable waste equals sustainable mobility. The fact that this technology is efficient in small plants co-located with waste streams and recycles water should also make it ideal for Australian conditions.

Source: Syntec

The impact of biodiesel on the glycerine and tallow markets

The following is from an e-mail conversation I had recently with an Envirofuel reader who works in the oleo industry here in Australia. I thought it was an interested insight into the impact biodiesel production has had on existing glycerine and tallow based industries. The author has given permission for it to be printed. I’ve made some minor changes to wording and composition.

The problem with glycerine from biodiesel production is that it has heavy contamination from methanol. This makes it unsuitable to process for the glycerine consumer market. A few years ago the world glycerine market suffered a massive price slump as all of the biodiesel glycerine was coming on to the market. As it was starting to be used, it was discovered that it was unsuitable for most glycerine markets. As a consequence of this, traditional glycerine is now undergoing a massive price correction due to global shortages.

It is obviously a major focus of biodiesel manufacturers to produce a pharmaceutical grade glycerine. Unfortunately, high temperature low pressure distillation is the only way this can currently be done and any raw material that has been in contact with methanol is unsuitable for that type of process. Each new generation of biodiesel plant is claiming that they have developed the technology for pharmaceutical glycerine production to encourage enthusiastic investors. To this day though, it isn’t working. For that reason, I believe that a large portion of biodiesel glycerine goes into animal feed stock.

The biodiesel industry will dispute my claims that their glycerine is unsuitable, and with the way that technology is developing, there well maybe someone out there who has developed a way to handle it, but we are not seeing that reflected in demand reduction or degradation of pricing due to increased quantities on the market.

We have been a consumer of tallow for over 150 years. Now we are constantly under competitive threat from the start up biodiesel industry which is looking to use our raw material as a substitute for fuel generation. Globally this has pushed prices to ridiculous levels. The flow on from this will start to flow through to the consumer, as all of our finished products go into the general manufacturing industry. The competition for feedstock for traditional oleo-chemical industries, food and biofuel will result in the industry with the biggest subsidies or political popularity surviving.

It is pointless fueling the world from biofuels if we then can’t feed the world. For that reason, I personally am interested in any way that individuals and businesses can reduce their demand for energy.

Any insights like this into industries that are impacted by biofuels or alternative fuel production and use are welcome here. If your industry is suffering due to the somewhat slow move away from the oil economy free to leave a comment on a relevant post or on the Contact page. Every bit helps inform the debate.

Syntec acquires ethanol catalyst technology to convert biomass to alcohol

Have you noticed the change in the way biofuels have been promoted in North America over the last few months? When biofuels first started to become popular it was all about being better for the environment. Now that corn based ethanol and coal-to-liquids have been shown to be worse for the environment than petrol, diesel or jet fuel the mantra has changed to “energy independence” and “reducing dependence on foreign oil” etc.

This is a worrying trend indeed as it basically says to the world that in general North America, the US in particular, really doesn’t care about the environment. All they care about now is the reduction of oil imports.

One potential shining light in all of this is Canadian company, Syntec Biofuel Inc. (Syntec). Syntec has acquired ethanol catalyst technology which has been developed to convert biomass into ethanol, butanol, methanol and propanol. Biogas and syngas from wood waste, organic waste, corn stover, sugar bagasse, switch grass, poplar etc. is becoming economically viable for some producers so Syntec are starting to test their catalysts in an industrial environment in order to quantify the life of the catalysts prior to commercialization.

Syntec’s development team under the direction of Dr. Caili Su will be working on improving yield to achieve their target of 113 US gallons per ton of biomass. The variable cost per gallon of alcohol on current yield is USD0.48 per gallon which is expected to shrink to USD0.37 per gallon on reaching the targeted yield.

Syntec’s technology is based on thermo-chemical conversion of syngas, produced by gasifying biomass, and passing the gas over the catalysts in a fixed bed reactor. This process is similar to producing methanol which is an established and well known technology.

Michael Jackson, President of Syntec says:

The industry recognizes that production of corn to ethanol has a negative impact on consumer food prices and farm land while cellulosic conversion of waste products are going to spawn the next generation of growth in the Ethanol industry. With oil prices now exceeding $80 a barrel the use of ethanol as a fuel additive is currently one of the few options available to reduce our reliance on imported oil.

The press release makes no mention of the environmental benefits of the process or products. Even the Technology page on their web site bangs on about reducing a country’s dependence on imported oil required for petroleum derived fuels.

Syntec, we would really like to know how much energy your process uses per gallon of ethanol, butanol etc. How much water does it use? What are the waste streams and how they are handled? How truly green is your product when its whole life-cycle is considered.? It’s not all about the money all of the time.

Source: Syntec Biofuel

Update (15 Feb 08) – Syntec have responded to the above and the points you raised in comments by providing the following information:

To answer a few of the questions raised by Mr. Hallam and some of the commentors: The waste streams resulting from Syntec’s technology are minimal, the resulting CO2 less than what would have been produced had the material (eg. forestry waste) been left to decompose on its own. Metal contamination is not an issue as the process uses very little water, and what water is used is recycled through the process. You are probably aware of the recent media storm surrounding ethanol produced from agricultural crops (eg. corn, wheat, etc..). None of the environmental or ethical issues raised by the media apply to Syntec’s technology as we only use WASTE materials to produce our biofuel. Our technology is capable of converting virtually any solid or gaseous cellulosic material eg. forestry waste (bark, leaves, chips, dust), agricultural waste (corn stover, bagasse), and even municipal wastes into ethanol. We are proud of our technology and do not believe that food production needs to compete with fuel production.

Volvo shows off carbon dioxide free trucks

The Volvo Group is touting itself as the first vehicle manufacturer to produce demonstration trucks that can all be driven without emitting any carbon dioxide (CO2). What they really meant to say is that their demonstration trucks, when run on any of seven alternative and biofuels, do not increase CO2 levels in the environment because the fuels are produced from renewable materials.

Volvo CO2 free trucks

The seven Volvo FM trucks are equipped with Volvo’s own 9-litre engines that have been specially modified by Volvo engineers to illustrate the possibilities of carbon dioxide-free transport. The trucks can be operated on: biodiesel, biogas combined with biodiesel, ethanol/methanol, DME, synthetic diesel and hydrogen gas combined with biogas.

Biodiesel is produced by the esterification of vegetable oils. Rapeseed oil and sunflower seed oil are the most common raw materials in Europe.

Biogas is a gaseous fuel that is largely comprised of hydrocarboned methane. Biogas can be extracted in sewage treatment works, at rubbish dumps and at other sites at which biodegradable materials are found.

Biogas + biodiesel
Biogas + biodiesel are combined in separate tanks and injection systems. A small percentage (10 per cent) of biodiesel or synthetic diesel is used for achieving compression ignition. The biogas in this alternative is in a cooled and liquid form that increases its range.

DME – Dimethyl ether
Dimethyl ether is a gas that is handled in liquid form under low pressure. DME is produced through the gasification of biomass.

Methanol is produced through the gasification of biomass and ethanol through the fermentation of crops rich in sugar and starch.

Synthetic Diesel
Synthetic Diesel is a mixture of synthetically manufactured hydrocarbon produced through the gasification of biomass. Synthetic diesel can be mixed with conventional diesel fuel without problem.

Hydrogen gas + Biogas
This vehicle operates on a combination of hydrogen gas and biogas whereby the hydrogen gas is mixed in small volumes with compressed biogas (8% volume). Higher mixture levels are also possible. The hydrogen gas can be produced through the gasification of biomass or electrolysis of water with renewable electricity.

Source: Volvo via AutogreenBlog

New IEA report says bioenergy can supply 20 – 50% of world needs

IEA Bioenergy, the bioenergy arm of the International Energy Agency, has released a new report entitled Potential Contribution of Bioenergy to the World’s Future Energy Demand which can be downloaded here.

The report is easy to read and contains a wealth of information. It is focused on energy in general rather than transport fuels but is still worth a read. Here is a small section relevant to transport fuels:

Biofuels, mainly ethanol produced from sugar cane and surpluses of corn and cereals, and to a far lesser extent biodiesel from oil-seed crops, represent a modest 1.5 EJ (about 1.5%) of transport fuel use worldwide. Global interest in transport biofuels is growing, particularly in Europe, Brazil, North America, and Asia (most notably Japan, China and India) [WEA, 2000/2004; IEA, 2006b].

Global ethanol production has more than doubled since 2000, while production of biodiesel, starting from a much smaller base, has expanded nearly threefold. In contrast, crude oil production has increased by only 7% since 2000 [WorldWatch Institute, 2007].

Below is a very good table extracted from the report on current and future biofuels technologies, their energy efficiency and their estimated cost of production.

IEA Bioenergy biomass to transport fuels table

Source: IEA Bioenergy via Biopact (thanks for the tip Geoff)

Velozzi micro-turbine hybrid concept car

Velozzi describe their concept cars as a plug-in multi-fuel hybrid electric vehicles. The cars are electric cars driven by AC electric motors which are in turn powered by a lithium-ion battery packs. The battery pack is charged by a micro-turbine capable of running on ethanol, methanol, biodiesel, petrol or diesel. The result is a car that Velozzi say will provide astonishing performance (0 – 100kph in less than 3 seconds) while using between 1.17L/100km and 2.3L/100km.

Velozzi plan to enter both their cars in the Automotive X Prize. The Velozzi X1 will be entered in the mainstream category as it will seat four passengers.

The Automotive X Prize offers a large financial reward to inspire a new generation of viable, super-efficient vehicles that help break our addiction to oil and stem the effects of climate change.

Source: Miami Herald, Velozzi

New Australian alternative fuel technologies

Radio Australia’s Innovations program discusses converting plastic to diesel, hydrogen storage and converting methane to low emission energy with the Australians that are developing these promising technologies.

Listen to the podcast.

For further information: