Clariant completes construction of 1st commercial Sunliquid cellulosic ethanol plant

October 17, 2021 |

Here comes the sun…the sunliquid that is. From Switzerland-based Clariant comes news that construction is complete first commercial Sunliquid plant for the production of cellulosic ethanol from agricultural residues. Where? In Podari, Romania where the EUR 140 million facility (about $162 million USD) will be operational in the fourth quarter processing approx. 250,000 tons of straw to produce approx. 50,000 tons of cellulosic ethanol per annum.

In today’s Digest, the new facility, the sunliquid tech, reactions from the stakeholders, plans for the future, and more.

Build it up

Innovative specialty chemical company, Clariant, announced the official completion of its sunliquid cellulosic ethanol plant in Podari, Romania just as everyone was headed into the weekend, giving something to celebrate.

After 4 years of construction, the EUR140 million facility will be operational in the fourth quarter, producing cellulosic ethanol from agricultural residues. The plant in Podari, Dolj county, is built on a 10-hectare area on which construction was initiated in 2019 with up to 800 workers onsite. Contracts with more than 300 local farmers have been signed to ensure the supply of the necessary feedstock.

Good for the planet, good for the economy

This investment also brings substantial economic benefits to the region. By locally sourcing feedstock, greenhouse gas emission reduction can be maximized. Also, additional business opportunities will arise along the regional value chain. Co-products produced by the process will be used for the generation of renewable energy, making the plant independent of fossil energy sources. Therefore, the resulting cellulosic ethanol is an almost carbon neutral second-generation biofuel. Besides application as a drop-in solution for fuel blending, this offers further downstream application opportunities into bio-based chemicals and for sustainable aviation fuel.

The technology

The completed construction is an important next step for the commercial deployment of sunliquid technology and thus supports Clariant’s sunliquid licensing business strategy.

The sunliquid process is designed for industrial plants with a production capacity of 50,000 to 150,000 ton of cellulosic ethanol per year.

So how exactly do they convert straw into biofuel with their Sunliquid technology? Here’s a great visual to help explain it:

What’s even better is that by using Sunliquid, greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by 95% compared to fossil fuels. The tech produces 50% more ethanol than previous processes and is able to convert all types of sugar simultaneously. And no additional energy is needed –the entire process energy originates from the lignin obtained as residue in the biomass.

According to Clariant, here’s a quick summary:

  • Pre-treatment – Chemical-free pre-treatment lowers production and investment costs. At the same time, environmental, health and safety risks are minimized.
  • Enzyme production – A small percentage of the pre-treated feedstock is used for enzyme production, which is an integrated part of the process and takes place on-site at the ethanol plant. This makes a major contribution to the economic efficiency of the overall process, resulting in a significant reduction in production costs and ensuring independence from supply shortages and price volatility.
  • Hydrolysis – A bespoke enzyme mixture hydrolyses cellulose and hemicellulose chains to form sugar monomers. This step is also termed saccharification. The enzymes are highly optimized based on feedstock and process parameters, resulting in maximum yields and short reaction times under optimal conditions.
  • Fermentation – Using optimized microorganisms, the sunliquid® process provides for efficient fermentation, giving rise to maximum ethanol yields. This highly-optimized, one-pot system simultaneously converts both C5 and C6 sugars to ethanol, delivering up to 50% more ethanol than conventional processes which convert only C6 sugars.
  • Separation – The innovative and highly energy saving purification method reduces energy demand by up to 50% compared with conventional distillation. It is based on thorough process planning and energy integration, resulting in an entirely energy self-sufficient process.

And in April, The Digest reported that Clariant has been working with Indonesia’s state-owned oil and gas corporation, Pertamina, to evaluate and test the feasibility of Clariant’s sunliquid technology to process available regional feedstocks in Indonesia into the advanced biofuel, cellulosic ethanol.

For more on the tech, check out The Digest’s “Lignocellulosic Platform Goes Beyond Biofuels: The Digest’s 2020 Multi-Slide Guide to Clariant’s Sunliquid” here.

Reactions from the stakeholders

“Biofuels and biochemicals produced from agricultural residues play a key role in reducing our carbon footprint,” said Conrad Keijzer, Chief Executive Officer at Clariant. “This investment and the successful commercialization of this new technology represents a major milestone for Clariant and is a further proof point for our ambitious growth strategy, led by innovations that contribute to a more sustainable world.”

“It is encouraging to see how far we have come since the start of the development of our sunliquid technology in 2006. The technology was successfully implemented in our pre-commercial plant in 2012 and five sunliquid technology licenses have been sold in both Europe and China since then. This milestone in Romania underlines our commitment to building a more sustainable future”, added Christian Librera, Clariant’s Head of Business Line Biofuels and Derivatives.

Bottom Line

In March, The Digest spoke to Christian Librera, Vice President and Head of Clariant’s Business Line Biofuels and Derivatives, to capture his view on the necessary measures that need to be taken in the near and midterm on climate change and decarbonization. He said, “a key focus of the EU’s transport and future mobility policies should be on those technologies that can immediately be used in today’s existing fueling infrastructure without any additional measurement or investments: sustainable, advanced biofuels, e.g., cellulosic ethanol. They provide a low-emission solution already today.”

And as of fourth quarter this year, Clariant’s commercial sunliquid plant will be up and running helping to make that happen.

But don’t think that’s the end. As Librera told The Digest back in March, “Over the past four years we have announced six cellulosic ethanol projects in the EU and China – our own flagship plant in Romania and five technology license projects in Slovakia, Poland, Bulgaria, and China. We have demonstrated licensing successes in Europe and since the beginning of last year, also in China, but we also want to demonstrate the success of sunliquid in other regions. Besides that, we are continually broadening our feedstock portfolio that is tested in our pre-commercial plant in Straubing, Germany. Up till now, approx. 30 different feedstocks from around the world have been tested, and with each new regional market we enter, new feedstocks are added. And the third dimension is broadening the product portfolio. As sunliquid is a very versatile technology platform going beyond the production of cellulosic ethanol, our cellulosic sugars can act as a building block for a wide range of biochemical intermediates.”

So stay tuned for more news from Clariant as they tackle today’s climate change challenges.

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