Brazilalot: Heard on the Floor at World Biofuels Markets

March 25, 2011 |

World Biofuels Markets has closed and the participants have departed, dancing a samba as they left.

For sure, it didn’t take long to discern WBM’s hot topic this year. It was right out of Monty Python’s famed Spam Sketch.

Brazil spam and Brazil, spam pyrolysis aviation and Brazil, spam fermentation Brazil and Brazil, spam Brazil Brazil and Brazil.

A lonely, dissenting biofuels developer: I don’t like Brazil!

Magic bug purveyor: Now, now, don’t make a fuss. I’ll have your Brazil. I love it. I’m having Brazil, Brazil, Brazil and Brazil!

Why? The hottest companies in bioenergy all know it – the name of the game is low-cost sugars, or affordable syngas that competes with natural gas. For those who don’t make or use syngas and need low-cost sugarcane: India’s short, Pakistan’s iffy, Australia’s underwater, Hawaii’s gone condo, the Philippines and Thailand are small, so you learn the samba and head for Brazil.

Hoping that somewhere, someone will come up with low-cost cellulosic sugars, in which case Brazil is still fine, fine, fine – there’s all that sugarcane bagasse.

As Dyadic CEO Mark Emalfarb put it, “It’s all about cheap cellulosic sugars, or its going to be Food vs Fuel part 2, and no one wants that.”

In all, it was the usual frenetic collection of news, gossip, praise, overcooked chicken, worry, insight, hype, guff, illumination, braggadocio, and “this lunch is brought to you by our friends at…” that makes a major conference like WBM the unique animal that it is.

Among the voices at this year’s edition in Rotterdam:

Project updates.

We heard from Sud-Chemie that their demonstration plant will completed this year. In their concept, process integrated enzyme production – that is, using a few percent of the carbon for enzyme production. The 300,000-600,000 gallon per year demonstration will open by the end of 2011, and the company is reporting “very active” partner discussions ongoing for the first commercial plant.

Groundbreaking. Italy’s Chemtex will be breaking ground April 12 on a “small commercial” scale cellulosic ethanol plant that will produce 40,000 tonnes (12 million gallons) of cellulosic ethanol, fermenting both C5 and C6 sugars, from 180,000 tons of biomass.

Biogasol. Building a demonstration of its cellulosic ethanol technology, an 8X scale up from the pilot, based on processing 4 tons per hour of biomass, complete this year. The project key? C5 fermentation. The Biogasol technology for C5 conversion will not be included in the demonstratino project at launch, but has successfully passed through the 250 liter reactor stage and is progressing through scale up.

CO2 fermentation

LanzaTech’s chief scientist Dr Sean Simpson says his team has developed a second microbe and process and proven it can successfully ferment CO2 in the lab in New Zealand. Dr Simpson says the pathway to commercialization of the CO2 process that will deliver chemicals to replace petro-chemicals in plastics and fuels has been laid out with LanzaTech’s CO joint venture and licensing strategy. Previously, LanzaTech has developed its process fermenting carbon monoxide from waste gases into ow cost ethanol, high value chemicals and drop in fuels.

Onsite vs offsite enzyme production

Cynthia Bryant, Global Biomass Business development Director, Novozymes: “At 50 cents per gallon, enzyme costs have reached the verge of commercial viability. But it is not only the operating cost that should be considered. It’s the impact on capital costs. The lower dose that is possible with the Cellic CTec2 enzymes – because it works with higher total solids, for example, it allows a smaller plant to be built. The enzymes produced in the past would have been required to be delivered in multiple truckloads every hour, vs delivering a couple of truckloads per week. That way, onsite enzyme production is not necessary.

Markus Rarbach, Head of Biocatalysis, Sud-Chemie: “We looked into the cost structure of enzyme production. The cheapest carbon source is the carbon already being aggregated. With onsite production, there is no need  to stabilize, store, sell, and ship, which accounts for 50 percent of the enzyme cost.

Bjarne Adamsen, VP, Biodevelopment, Genencor: “We have done extensive modeling on both possibilities. Both models are feasible; it depends on the feedstock and the project.”

Mark Emalfarb, CEO, Dyadic: “With the same strain, same yields, there is no question that onsite works better, because 50 percent of the cost is in the downstream. But, for smaller companies, it makes sense to works towards an onsite license. Start buying, and as scale is built out, start making them onsite.”

C5 fermentation

The Sud-Chemie view: “C5 fermentation is key. Feedstock represents the largest single operating cost for cellulosic ethanol. You really can’t justify a project unless you are getting out the C5 sugars too.”

Greenfield vs Brownfield.

“Not one project in cellulosic ethanol will be totally greenfield,” said Rune Skovgaard, Director of Design and Engineering at Biogasol. ” At the very least, projects will co-locate for power, steam, permits, integration with digesters, and so on.”

Adds Invensys’ Meyer, “what we have found is that it makes all the sense in the world to bring in technologies that have been proven to work in other industries, wherever possible.”

How much biomass is out there?

2.1 billion tons of available biomass residues, globally, says Sud-Chemie’s Markus Rarback. He pointed to 800 million tons of rice straw biomass available in Asia, along with 400 million tons each in Europe and the US from (primarily) wheat straw and corn stover, plus another 500 million tonnes in India, Russia and Brazil in the form of rice straw, mixed crop residues and sugarcane bagasse.

What production volume can be considered commercial-scale?

Christian Morgen, Senior Manager, Business Development, Inbicon: “For me, commercial volume is any volume that makes money. A large project that loses money is not commercial just because it is large, and a small project that makes money is not uncommercial just because it is small.”

Aviation biofuels

The Air Transport Action Group launched its new report: “Powering the future of flight, six eesy steps to growing a viable aviation biofuels industry.” Download it here. http://www.enviro.aero/Powering-the-future-of-flight.aspx

Advice from the experts

Watch that front end, warns Matthis Rudloff, Head of Business Development for Choren. “Not all gasifiers are the same.”

“Pilots crash, advanced biofuels means using advanced pilot and project simulations,” said Louis Meyer profiled the Invensys system for pilot modeling and simulation.

Pyrolysis is a game changer. “If you liquify, then densify the wood, you break the chain that ties biomass projects, for power or fuel, to the original biomass location,” says Honeywell’s UOP Jim Woodger. “The energy is so densely packed that it can be affordably transported to where the energy is needed, with no loss in transmission.

Think out of the box with advanced fuels,” said BioMCN’s Roger Brokland. ” Don’t overlook the opportunities for alternative fuels in the form of biomethanol, MTBE, or Bio-DME, says BioMCN. The biomethanol developer, which makes biomethanol from glycerine (a waste byproduct of biodiesel production), reminded attendees that 47 million tons of methanol, or 38 percent of global methanol demand, was for the fuel markets, and that both M15 and up to M85 blends have been tested in China. Not to mention the uses of methanol in fuel cells.

Sustainable Biofuels Awards

Among other announcements this week were the Sustainable Biofuels Awards, hosted by Ahmed Aboutaleb, Mayor of Rotterdam. Winners are:

Biofuels Adoption Award: British Airways

Sustainable Biodiesel Award: Brasil Ecodiesel

Sustainable Biofuels Technology Award: Genencor

Sustainable Bioethanol Award: Tereos

Biofuels Leadership Award: Matt Horton, CEO, Propel Fuels

Best Algae Innovation: Sapphire Energy

Best Biofuels EPC Innovation: Fluor

Green Shoots Award: Syngest

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