Competitive Edge: Applied Biorefinery Sciences’ HWE biomass tech and ethanol

October 7, 2021 |

With a name like Dr. Wood as CTO and Co-founder of a company that was founded to commercialize Hot Water Extraction for producing fuels and chemicals from biomass, particularly but not exclusively hardwoods, this Competitive Edge entry caught our eye. But what is the HWE tech all about? How does it valorize the hemicellulose portion of biomass?

In today’s Digest, find out how ABS is studying HWE for producing cellulosic ethanol, their development stage right now, HWE’s advantages over other cellulosic ethanol / biorefining technologies in five areas, and more.

Q: What was the reason for founding your organization – what was the open niche you saw that could be addressed with a new product or service? What was the problem, or gap, or opportunity?

ABS was founded to commercialize Hot Water Extraction (HWE) for producing fuels and chemicals from biomass, particularly but not exclusively hardwoods. HWE was developed to valorize the hemicellulose portion of biomass, which has little value in conventional uses. HWE benefits the existing biomass user (pulp or pellet mill), e.g. by enabling pellet mills to use barky waste wood, forest thinnings, and fire reduction cut biomass. ABS is studying HWE for producing cellulosic ethanol. According to US DOE, woody biomass provides a potential resource of ~100 million tons per year in the US, on top of the ~125 million tons of biomass used in the pulp and pellet industries. Broad application of ABS technology to pulp and pellet mills could produce ~ 2.5 B gal/year of ethanol, 3.1 MM ton/year of acetic acid, and other co-products. HWE use in cellulosic ethanol production, using the un-utilized woody biomass resource described by DOE, could add a 7.9 billion gal/year of ethanol production.

Q: Tell us about your organization. What do you do?

ABS engineers, develops, and supports commercial biorefineries using our patented Hot Water Extraction (HWE) and fractionation processes. We are currently seeking financing for a 5 ton/day demonstration plant to optimize process conditions and develop scaling factors, which will be followed by our first commercial biorefinery (expected to be circa 700 tons/day). We expect to deploy HWE based biorefining as both the core of cellulosic ethanol plants, and as pretreatment plants before pulp and pellet mills.

ABS also performs internal and contract research in the biochemicals / biomass processing field. We operate a bioprocess laboratory in Syracuse NY with capabilities including: twin 6 liter tumbling biomass reactors, corrosion-resistant (titanium) high-pressure/temperature reactor, centrifuges, and a high-performance liquid chromatography system. ABS provides confidential contract analytical, process development, and technical support services.

Q: What stage of development are you?

Pilot stage – proven at small, non-integrated scale

Q: What do your technologies, products or services do and accomplish – how does it (they) work, who is it (they) aimed for?

ABS biorefinery technology recovers chemical, fuel, and material co-products from sustainably sourced biomass including forest waste. It serves as a pre-treatment for cellulosic fuels and chemicals biorefineries, or for existing processes such as pulping and pelletization. ABS has the experience and laboratory abilities necessary to facilitate development of biorefinery technologies on a contractual or co-development basis, and has completed multiple such contract research and cooperative development projects.

ABS’s patented HWE technology “cooks” biomass in water at 150°C to 170°C for 1-3 hours, liberating sugars, lignin, organic acids, and furans in an aqueous “extract”. The combination of the HWE platform technology with a cellulosic ethanol and chemicals backend can make production of chemicals and fuels from biomass economically attractive, and recover more value per ton of biomass than current biorefining technologies.

Q: Competitively, what gives your technology, product or service set an edge in cost or performance, sustainability, or any other aspect, that makes it stand out from the crowd, In short, what makes it transformative?

ABS’s key innovation is its patented HWE technology used as a pre-treatment for biomass that will be processed to pulp / pellets / etc. or to sugars which can be converted to ethanol or chemicals. HWE offers significant advantages over other cellulosic ethanol / biorefining technologies in five areas: 

(1) HWE derives value from multiple components of the biomass; 

(2) large accessible biomass resource, including the potential to produce biofuels and biochemicals through pre-processing of biomass already utilized by existing industries (pulp and wood fuel pellets); 

(3) minimal use of consumable chemicals, energy efficient processing, and low carbon footprint; 

(4) large “green” business opportunity with solid returns on investment; and 

(5) low technical risk to reach commercially viable plants through use of commonly available processing equipment.

Q: What are the 3 top milestones you have accomplished in the past 3 years?

  1. 1. Completed a major subcontract on a DOE-funded biomass logistics research project. Produced and characterized substantial volumes of HWE extract and extracted fiber from a variety of biomass feedstocks.
  2. 2. Established a research laboratory at the Syracuse Center of Excellence. The laboratory includes unique biomaterials processing and analysis capabilities including: 6 liter tumbling biomass digesters, corrosion-resistant (titanium) high-pressure/temperature reactor, centrifuges, and high-performance liquid chromatography system.
  3. 3. Completed a major R&D contract with a large European company to evaluate improvements in their biomass processing concept.

Q: What are the 3 top milestones you will accomplish in the next 3 years?

  1. 1. Prototype and validate a unique counter-current biomass extractor design.
  2. 2. Construct a 5 ton-per-day pilot plant and develop scaling factors for a first commercial biorefinery.
  3. 3. Construct a first commercial biorefinery based on ABS’s HWE technology.

Q. Where can I learn more about Applied Biorefinery Sciences LLC (ABS)?

Click here to visit Applied Biorefinery Sciences LLC (ABS)’s website.

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