Chempolis’ cellulosic ethanol technology heads for commercial-scale in India

February 15, 2016 |

BD TS 021516 India-smChempolis’ multi-year quest to build cellulosic ethanol in India finds a happy landing.

In India, €110 million joint venture cellulosic ethanol project  of Chempolis Ltd and Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL) is moving towards construction after getting approval from NRL’s board. The project is expected to come online by 2019.

The when and where

The bamboo-based facility will be located in Assam, producing 49,000 metric tons of ethanol annually (15 million US gallons per year, or 56 million liters) for supply to the country’s Eastern and Northeastern markets that are not so easily supplied by sugarcane mills. With government permissions expected next week and inclusion of the project in ‘Hydrocarbon Vision 2030 for Northeast’, the companies expect work on the project to start shortly. Co-production of furfural and acetic acid is also in the cards.

Who is NRL?

NRL is a Government of India Public Sector Undertaking which operates a 3.0 MMTPA Refinery at Numaligarh in the District of Golaghat, Assam, India since 2000. NRL is a subsidiary of Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd (BPCL) which holds 61.65% share of the company while Oil India Limited and Government of Assam owns 26.00% and 12.35% share respectively.

2012-15: Chempolis aims at India

In  September 2012, we first reported on Chempolis’s aim to set up some of its $52 million biorefineries using bagasse, perhaps teaming up with at least one sugar mill in the country. At the time, we noted that the company was in discussion with several mills.

In October 2013, we reported that Chempolis had signed an MoU with ONGC, India’s leading oil & gas exploration company. The MoU acts as a roadmap for the first biorefinery project in India. The signing ceremony took place in New Delhi in the presence of Alexander Stubb, Finland’s Foreign Trade Minister and Panabaka Lakshmi, Union Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Gas. Further to the first biorefinery, Chempolis and ONGC are targeting at larger production of sustainable biofuels in India, which would reduce India’s dependence on imported petroleum.

But it was in October 2014 that the relationship with NRL and the pivot to bamboo was revealed, when it was reported that Chempolis and Numaligarh Refinery Limited signed an MOU to jointly study to build a biorefinery in Northeastern Indian (Assam) to produce ethanol from bamboo with furfural and acetic acid produced as co-products.

And then, in November 2014, Chempolis turned to Indonesia with the signing of an MOU with Indonesia International Institute for Life Sciences (i3L) to jointly promote and develop commercial biorefinery projects. They also have agreed to jointly form a research centre with a focus on investigating the technical, economic, social, and policy aspects of developing sustainable biorefineries to catalyze the development of bioeconomy in Indonesia.

In December 2015, we reported that Chempolis partnered Avantha Group’s research wing ACRID to produce cellulosic ethanol and other bio-based chemicals from feedstocks such as bagasse, cane trash, rice and wheat straw, corn stems, grasses, bamboo and clean sugar. Chempolis will supply its proprietary technology for the implementation of local projects. An increase of ethanol production is expected to help the country achieve its current 10% blending mandate and plans for a future 20% blending mandate.”

What is Formicobio, anyway?

Chempolis’ Formicobio biorefining technology is based on the use of a novel sulphur-free biosolvent, which enables the biosolvent and water circulation within the process to be fully closed, preventing the generation of waste. As the biosolvent is completely recoverable and the process requires a low level of enzyme input and is self-sufficient in terms of energy, the company says that “formicobio offers excellent cost-effectiveness combined with high sustainability and low carbon footprint.”

The bottom-line impact? 40% higher sales revenues to customer than “2G technologies” (based on acid pretreatment and enzymatic hydrolysis) does.

The fractions

The pure cellulose produced can be enzymatically hydrolyzed into pure glucose very easily, using less enzymes. Pure glucose can be fermented into ethanol rapidly. In addition to providing the base for bioethanol, glucose is also a platform for various biochemicals.

Pure hemicellulose sugars can be processed into ethanol, furfural, and acetic acid, for example. A versatile xylose platform can be tailored according to customer needs.

The pure lignin produced can be used in energy generation, to make a biorefinery based on formicobio technology self-sufficient in energy or can be refined into end product.

Reaction from Chempolis

“This is Chempolis’ and our partners anchor investment in India, which enables us to deliver our technologies and solutions to the next 50 biorefineries which are needed in India by 2022” says Pasi Rousu, President of Chempolis Asia, Pacific and Americas.

India’s enthusiasm

Biofuels and cellulosic ethanol are subjects that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is promoting. The topic was discussed also in meetings between Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Finland’s Prime Minister Juha Sipilä during his business delegation in India on 12-14 February 2016.

It’s been a tough journey for India to meet production targets — despite widespread enthusiasm for improving domestic energy security and for utilizing Indian residues and available land to grow energy crops like sustainable bamboo for renewable fuels.

We reported last week that the Indian oil minister said the country will at last, and without a doubt, achieve its E5 blending mandate in the year through September for the first time ever. At least 1.2 billion liters will be sourced from sugarcane mills this year, and potentially more, compared to just 670 million liters last year. The government is also preparing to push cellulosic ethanol production from straws as part of its next policy wave that will be introduced soon.

 

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