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Release of sugars from lignocellulosic biomass by microwave plasma

Final ReportSummary - MICROGRASS (Release of sugars from lignocellulosic biomass by microwave plasma)

One of our greatest challenges is to reduce our nation's dependence on imported petroleum. To accomplish this, we need a variety of alternative fuels, including ethanol produced from cellulosic materials like grasses and wood chips. Biofuels for transport are considered to be the answer decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, to enhance energy security and respond to rising oil prices by substituting or blending petrol and diesel with biofuels and to contribute to regional development by increasing employment opportunities and diversifying activities for farmer through energy crops. The EU only produces 4.1 % of the total world ethanol, the US has become in recent years the biggest ethanol producer in the world with 48 % of the world total and more than two fifths of the global fuel ethanol supply was produced in Brazil. The major different types of biofuels are between first and second generation biofuels. First generation biofuels are made from food crop feed stocks while second generation biofuels are made from cellulosic biomass.

The primary pathway for producing bioethanol fuels from lignocellulosic biomass is biochemical conversion (acid hydrolysis) which is an expensive procedure and produces low yields of between 10 to 40 % and enzymatic hydrolysis. Unfortunately cellulose is difficult to digest, produces low yields < 20 % and takes up to 2 days in addition. Although research is continuously improving this process, at present biochemical conversion has not been proven at industrial scale. Currently, there are no commercial cellulosic ethanol refineries centralised or decentralised operating at affordable costs.

Our project concept involves development of a multipurpose prototype for the reaction of various types of cellulosic biomass on a continuous or batched basis using microwave plasma or combined microwave plasma and chemical / enzyme hydrolysis. This technology will breakdown the cellulose molecule structures and allows an efficient (90 % yield efficiency) and rapid release of the sugars for the fermentation reaction. In addition, by using microwave plasma we will use 10 times less energy, chemicals, infrastructure accessories and solvents making the conversion of cellulosic biomass into bio-ethanol an economical procedure.

The Microwave irradiation method is a kind of autohydrolysis to separate hemicellulose and lignin from lignocellulose and it is utilisable as pre-treatment before enzymatic saccharification to produce fermentable carbohydrates as well as an extraction method for biomass components such as polysaccharides. This method does not require any pre washing of the grass or biomass and the byproduct is clear sugar soup from any inhibitors or acid as not the case for the current conventional system where extra resources and system required removing them. This system can also be used as a retrofit into the current system with a strong potential for being a mobile and ideally to be used closed to the feed stock.

The project final results which have been evaluated by the industrial partners have shown the potential of having a unique solution to converting various types of grass into sugar soup at fraction of the energy required in the current available technologies. The project outcome is a fully controlled and automated prototype industrial system having the capability of being mobile and be applicable to decentralised locations of which current system cannot do.

Project context and objectives:

The technology developed via the project will meet a key technological need in the European SME bio-fuel sector and provide SMEs farmers with a use for their, at present, non profitable poor soil. The MICROGRASS project will provide an efficient, fast and less energy intensive technology for the breakdown of cellulosic biomass into sugars for production of ethanol. This technology will allow the European Union (EU) to satisfy the growing demand for bio-fuels without conflicting with food production and giving the farming community a product can be grown in poor soil and it will generate additional income for them. In addition by increasing the production of bio-fuels we will:

- tackle climate change by decreasing greenhouse gas emissions from transport;
- enhance fuel security;
- respond to rising high oil prices by substituting or blending petrol or diesel with ethanol.

Project objectives

Scientific objectives

- To specifically develop a new mechanism for breaking down cellulosic biomass into sugars. (Please see reports for D1.1 D1.2 D1.3 and M1.1 M1.2)
- To investigate the effect of temperature, time of reaction and range of operating frequency on different types of energy crops and cellulosic waste. (Please see reports for D2.1 and D2.2)
- To research self tuning of microwave sources to operate at various frequencies ranging from 2.45 to 10 GHz and where power levels are modulated to maintain optimisation. (Please see reports for D3.1 and M3.1)
- To characterise the effects of microwave frequency and power applied to the various cellulosic biomass materials that will give the best speed of reaction and yields of sugar release. (Please see report for D2.1)
- To investigate the optimum mechanism of reaction for cellulosic biomass material subjected to microwave plasma or combined microwave plasma and chemical/enzyme hydrolysis. (Please see reports for D5.2 and D5.3)

Technical objectives

- To measure the dielectric properties of cellulosic biomass across a range of frequencies 2.45 GHz to 10 GHz. (Please see reports for D2.1 D3.1 and M3.1)
- Design and build a microwave plasma reactor in which a single cavity will be use for all frequencies in the range of 2.45 to 10 GHz allowing multimode resonance conditions to be maintain at all times. In this system coupling waveguides will be use to allow any of the microwave sources to be attached over the cavity. (Please see reports for D3.2 D3.3 and M3.2)
- Design and build an automated microwave plasma monitoring system in which software analysis will identify the salient parameter of each sensor (based on temporal analysis, spectrum analysis and responses times) which will be used to give an insight to the chemical reaction. (Please see reports for D4.1 D4.2 and M4.1)
- To achieve an efficient (> 90 %) and rapid procedure (< 4 hours) for breaking down cellulose into sugars by subjecting cellulosic material to a continuous microwave plasma process. (Please see reports for D6.1 and M5.2)

Integration of objectives

Integration of all components to produce the prototype model
(Please see reports for D5.1 and M5.2)

Validation of performance of the prototype model at test sites

1. Indication of yield of sugars from different energy crops and cellulosic
2. Indication of time of reaction in relation to yield of sugars
3. Indication of temperature of reaction in relation to yield of sugars
4. Indication of energy consumption in relation to yield of sugars.
(Please see reports for D5.1 D5.2 D5.3 D6.1 and M6.1)

Project results:

The S&T objectives of the project have been delivered through eight work packages (WPs) including:

WP1: Investigation of crop residues and energy crops

- Creation of knowledge of the best preparation methodology of Lignocellulosic biomass in terms of high yield of sugars
- Creation of knowledge in relation to the selection of the type of crop residue that produce the highest yield of sugars.
- Creation of knowledge in relation to the selection of the type of energy crop that will produce the highest yield of sugars.

Tasks completed:
- Milling of the crops residues and energy crops
- Soaking of particles
- Conventional heating enzymatic hydrolysis analysis


Different crop residues and energy crops have been milled in sizes ranging from 10 mm, 5 mm, 2 mm, 1 mm, 0.5 mm and 0.25 mm and passed though the appropriate mesh sieve for separation. Each of the pre-soaked slurry was transferred to a reactor made of stainless steel. The content of each reactor was been filtered, pH neutralised and stored in a freezer. Hydrolysis experiments were conducted following the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) procedure or similar appropriate for Lignocellulosic biomass hydrolysis. The enzymes such as Celluclast 1.5-L and Novozyme 188 or similar were used for enzymatic hydrolysis. The hydrolysis experiments were done in duplicate and in addition a blank with the medium and enzyme were carried out to determine how much glucose, if any, was released from the enzyme. Acid insoluble lignin, soluble lignin and structural carbohydrates were measured for Determination of structural carbohydrate and lignin in biomass.

Deliverables 1.1: Introduction

The intention of tasks 1.1 - 1.4 was to identify the best pre-treatment methods to use to enhance sugar recovery from a range of crops using the MICROGRASS microwave system. It was anticipated that pre-treatment of the crop feedstocks would allow the recovery of more sugars post-microwave treatment, but the best pre-treatment method was not known. As deliverables 1.1 and 1.2 are very closely inter-related. The report detailed the effect of different physical and chemical treatment processes on the release of sugars from a range of crops with medium to high sugar content. The physical treatment methods involved milling crop samples to know sizes to investigate the effect of surface area on sugar recovery and processing each of the milled residues at high temperatures in water. The chemical processing method took each of the milled samples and treated them with varying concentrations of sodium hydroxide solution to investigate how this 'digestion' affected sugar release. Crop residues obtained for processing in the MICROGRASS system were supplied in a variety of sizes. While the microwave system was physically able to cope with small-to-medium-sized materials, it was not known precisely how the differing sizes would affect sugar liberation. In addition, material milling is an expensive process on an industrial scale with costs increasing as product sizes decrease. It was therefore necessary to investigate the effect of milling on sugar yield without further chemical processing, with chemical processing and with heat digestion to evaluate the need for crop size reduction. Three crops, miscanthus grass, willow and meadow hay, were selected for study. (Please see the deliverables and milestones reports including D1.1 D1.2 D1.3 and M1.1 and M1.2)

WP2: Enhance microwave plasma knowledge

- Creation of new scientific knowledge associated with microwave plasma processing of 'grass' species
- Enhanced understanding of the dielectric properties of cellulosic biomass across the range of frequency of 2.5 GHz to 10 GHz.

Tasks completed:
- Investigation of complementary techniques for measuring dielectric properties across the ranges of frequency 2.5 GHz to 10 GHz
- Established optimal processing algorithms to selectively tune the microwave power frequency.

- Designed and constructed a new microwave sensor for the detection of the physical properties of the grass
- Using advanced algorithms to automate and control the system control parameters in real time
- Potential for industrial exploitation about the effect of microwave on the breakdown of lignin.

In order to measure the dielectric properties of the lignocelluloses, it was important to understand their physical properties and the nature of the material. Lignocellulosic materials primarily consist of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin that are closely associated in a complex structure. The structure can be described as a skeleton of cellulose chains embedded in a cross-linked matrix of hemicellulose surrounded by a crust of lignin. The extensive interactions between cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin, and the barrier nature of lignin minimised the access of hydrolytic enzymes to the carbohydrate fraction. The amounts of each component vary based on the type of lignocellulosic biomass. In general, grasses such as switchgrass / rye grass contain 30 - 35 % cellulose, 20 - 30 % hemicellulose and 20 - 25 % lignin. Cellulose is a homopolymer of ß-D-glucose units that are linked via ß-1-4 glycosidic bonds. The basic repeat unit of cellulose is cellobiose, which consists of two glucose molecules. The nature of ß-1-4 bonds result in the formation of a linear chain of glucose molecules. This linearity results in an ordered packing of cellulose chains that interact via inter-molecular and intra-molecular hydrogen bonds involving hydroxyl groups and hydrogen atoms of neighbouring glucose units. Consequently, cellulose exists as crystalline fibres with occasional amorphous regions. The crystallinity of cellulose fibres was a major hurdle for efficient enzymatic hydrolysis. In contrast to cellulose, hemicelluloses are heteropolymers that are made up of five-carbon sugars such as xylose and arabinose, and six-carbon sugars such as galactose and mannose. While the structure of cellulose is the same for all lignocellulosic biomass, the structure and composition of hemicelluloses can vary. Grasses such as switchgrass contain two types of hemicelluloses. The major 13 hemicellulose is arabinoxylan, which consists of a xylan backbone made up of ß-1,4-linked D-xylose units with frequent arabinose side chains. Although the backbone xylan structure is similar to cellulose, the presence of arabinose side chains minimises hydrogen bonding. As a result, hemicellulose has low crystallinity. The minor hemicellulose is glucomannan, which is a copolymeric chain of glucose and mannose units. Occasional branching in glucomannan also contributes to the low crystallinity of hemicellulose. In contrast to cellulose and hemicellulose, the structure of lignin is difficult to depict. Lignin is a highly complex polymer made up of three types of phenolic acids: p-coumaryl alcohol, coniferyl alcohol and synapyl alcohol. These phenolic acids are called monolignols and their proportions vary based on the type of lignocene. (Please see the deliverables and milestones reports including D2.1 D2.2)

WP3: Modular microwave reactor

- To development of a frequency tuner to achieve the optimum power and hold a constant temperature
- To determine the characteristic of the microwave plasma reactor to be built.

Tasks completed:
- Build a frequency tuner across the ranges of 2.5 GHz to 10 GHz covering ISM frequencies for the industrial, scientific and medical
- Design a modular microwave reactor for continuous or batch material processing
- Build a modular microwave reactor for continuous or batch material processing.

- Designed, constructed and tested microwave frequency tuner
- Simulation, design, construction and testing 1 l modular microwave for cw and batch processing
- Total removal of vanillic acid unlikely in the conventional methods, hence much less energy required for the production of bioethanol
- Real time monitoring software.

A crucial part of the breakdown of lignocelluloses process was the ability to keep and hold a constant temperature especially at the optimum condition. Hence, a control system for on line real time, monitoring process was needed. By varying the power, the temperature could be controlled, which allowed the behaviour of the dielectric of the biomass to be observed. This was carried out by using a signal generator with built-in spectrum analyser, Marconi 6200 test set, microwave source, waveguide components operating at frequencies up to 20 GHz with variable input power.

The LJMU research group has applied its broad knowledge on microwave energy and electromagnetic fields theory to the task of obtaining the maximum yield from the biomass substrates. Three different approaches were designed and constructed including cold plasma interaction with dry biomass, microwave field interaction with biomass in solution, and microwave produced ozone interaction with dry and wet biomass. The cold plasma re-treatment system operated at a frequency of 10 GHz, and was capable of producing a cold plasma (of less than 100 °C) using ionised gas at atmospheric pressure. The reactions initiated involve the formation of free radicals. Free radicals are very reactive due to the strong tendency of their unpaired electrons to interact with other electrons on the surface of lignocellulosic fibres. Controlled bond cleavage with plasmas to form free radicals could possibly enhance delignification processes. HFSS EM wave simulations is a full wave electromagnetic wave simulator, designed to model numerous RF structures. Simulation, modelling, results, analysis, and parametric automation were all integrated within the software to allow solutions to high frequencies problems. The FEM method of computation was used in HFSS, which employed adaptive meshing techniques on a 3D model to allow a solution to be found for complex geometries. FE mesh overlay on waveguide HFSS offered users the ability to create models of design problems using the CAD features provided. It uses very typical CAD tools and design methods that can be seen in other common CAD applications, allowing the user to quickly integrate into this new environment, with minimal training. (Please see the deliverables and milestones reports including D3.1 D3.2 D3.3 and M3.1 and M3.2)

WP4: Automated microwave plasma system monitoring

- To develop a control system for monitoring the chemical process under microwave irradiation in real time
- Determination of optimal salient parameter for each of the sensor systems
- Design and build of a graphical user interface to collect from all the sensors and display instantaneously the reaction temperature, forward and reflected power
- Define the initial optimum parameter for the microwave system and let to the design and under construction of the industrial microwave bioethanol reactor.

Results achieved:
Suitable parameters were identified for each of the sensor systems (optical and microwave power detectors). A graphical user interface was designed to collect data from all the sensors which instantaneously displayed reaction temperature, forward and reflected power.

The microwave power supply unit used was an Alter SM745G. This unit was able to supply, from a remote location, the current necessary to power a 2000 W magnetron. Having the power supply unit in a separate location from the microwave head allowed greater flexibility in its use and easier maintenance. The unit was mounted in a standard 19' enclosure with a further panel displaying two meters to indicate the forward power and the reflected power. The unit did not just provide power to the magnetron; it also monitored the magnetron temperature, cut off the power in event of malfunction and displayed alarms by means of LEDs. The output power could be adjusted using the front panel potentiometer. An electronic circuit has been implemented into the unit so all these functions can also be performed remotely via a PC. This functionality will be seen later, but in figure 4 a 9 pin D-type socket can be seen which is connected to a PC using a National Instruments USB6009 DAQ card. There is also a standalone setting should the unit require operation without the software implemented in the current LabVIEW application. To measure the reflected power, a microwave diode is connected to an aerial inserted into the waveguide in front of the matched load. The diode gives a voltage signal proportional to the amount of power that is entering the matched load. The diode is calibrated by replacing the cavity with a short circuiting plate. This reflects all of the incident power into the matched load. In order to be able to control the power supply unit from the computer, a suitable circuit was designed and constructed.

Initial LabVIEW system

LabVIEW stands for laboratory virtual instrument engineering workbench and it is a graphic programming language developed by national instruments. Since its inception in the market, LabVIEW has become the de facto standard in industry for the development of test, measurement and controls for instrumentation. As a programming language, LabVIEW works using something called a 'virtual instrument' or VI for short. A VI is a programming element and it consists of a front panel, a block diagram and an icon that represents the program. Depending on the functionality, a VI can be used as a standalone instrument or as part of a more complex application (sub-VI or sub-program). A front panel is used to display the controls with which the user interacts with the program or virtual device. It consists of controls (e.g. buttons and switches) and indicators (e.g. charts and meters) for the user. Controls are the inputs the user employs to communicate with the program while indicators are the outputs of processes, calculations and measurements performed by the program. By interacting with the tools available in the front panel, users can control the program, change inputs, and see data updated in real time. (Please see the deliverables and milestones reports including D4.1 D4.2 and M4.1)

WP5: Integration and process simulation

- To integrate the modular plasma reactor and the monitoring system
- To determine the effects of temperature and power on the breakdown of cellulose.

- Integration of modular plasma reactor and the microwave plasma monitoring system
- Investigating the effect of temperature and power on the breakdown of cellulose
- Mathematical modelling of saccharification fermentation procedure for cellulosic biomass material

- Integration of modular plasma reactor and the microwave plasma monitoring system
- Completion of investigating the effect of temperature and power on the breakdown of cellulose
- Mathematical modelling of saccharification fermentation procedure for cellulosic biomass material

Based upon the industrial partners requirements for the prototype microwave plasma reactor system, the operational frequency of 2.45 GHz was optimised to break down the lignin. From the industrial point view, the use of conventional microwave ovens operating at various powers from 1 to 6 kW were ideal for this purpose due to their mass production in comparison with the high frequency counterpart systems. Therefore, in order to enhance the E-field inside the microwave plasma reactor, HFSS was used to simulate the optimum reactor that could provide a high E-field in order to break down the lignin by using low power microwaves. The structure was based upon WG9A waveguide (86 mm by 43 mm) and the length was 60 mm for the straight sections at either end, the two ramp sections were 50 mm long and the middle section (2 mm height rather than 43 mm) was 88 mm long. The power enters at the left and there is a short circuit (metal plate) terminating the guide at the right. In the model, the tapered (narrow) central section is the one that would be made out of mesh. This central area would be part of a vertical rectangular structure through which the grass would be dropped into the mesh and therefore the plasma. More modelling work with the help of the HFSS program was necessary to achieve the E-field values necessary to breakdown air and be able to do without of the argon feed gas altogether. This is typically 30k V/cm but depends upon humidity, which reduced this. Increasing the power only increases the E-field by the square root of that increase, a very high power (10 kW) would be required to ensure a breakdown across smooth plates based upon these results.

The effect of a microwave field applied directly to biomass was also explored. The setup consisted of a 2 l bioreactor encased in a stainless steel round housing. The housing contained the microwave field and acted as a microwave cavity. The microwave energy was launched into the bioreactor via a coaxial cable and a tuning section. The bioreactor contained a stepper motor for agitation (0 - 1000 rpm), 2 port for entrance and exit of heat-exchange, bottom draw sample port, sensor locators, thermal well for temperature control, top plate ejector pipe, exhaust gas exit pipe and air input. All experiments were conducted using the same steady state conditions with the only variable employed being microwave energy input and thermal heat compensation. For stand methods, NREL LAP-006 was observed with analysis through the use of REZEX ROA 300 mm column, RI detection and 4 mM H2SO4. Power outputs from the microwave generator were in the order of 0 W, 50 W, 100 W and 150 W. Reflected power was indicated by the generator unit which was typically lower than 5 % of output power although significant loss was observed by the heating of the co-axial cable to the launcher system. 150 W was seen as the upper limit due to excessive heat in the cable observed at 150 W. (Please see the deliverables and milestones reports including D5.1 D5.2 D5.3 and M5.1 and M5.2)

WP6: Experimental for possible industrial application

- To determine the optimum process parameter of reaction time, temperature, microwave power and frequency for treated and untreated cellulosic biomass
- To determine the dynamic of the microwave plasma process when the system is implemented at industrial level.

- Experimental studies evaluated the performance of the microwave system in terms of mass, energy balance and determined the operation and capital cost
- Completion of energy balance parameters
- Developed dynamic models to estimate the behaviour of the system in relation to control and operation aspects of the processes when implemented at industrial levels.

Evaluated performance of the microwave plasma reactor on term of mass and energy balance if implanted at industrial level The main priority of the project was the development of cost-effective microwave technologies to convert lignocellulosic biomass, in particular grass, into fermentable sugars and subsequently into fuel ethanol. Due to the large amount of options concerning existing and not completely developed technologies for this conversion, the application of process engineering tools was required. Process engineering was applied to the release of sugars from lignocellulosic biomass and to the production of fuel ethanol, respectively, including the design of new innovative conversion technologies, i.e. microwave reaction technology, as well as up-stream and down-stream process configurations aimed at reducing overall production costs. In conclusion, the characteristics of the microwave reactor would be adapted to the requirements and conditions of the overall process. Fuel production is related to 'low cost - high volume' products, i.e. feedstock costs have a significant share in the matter of overall economics. Through appropriate process design, feedstock diversification could be achieved implying the improvement of costs structure and product specifications and co-product credits. The development of economic technologies for the release of lignocelluse based sugars in terms of bioethanol production could be carried out utilising different design approaches. Process synthesis, as a tool of process design, allowed the formulation and assessment of many technological flow-sheets for finding those with improved performance indicators (e.g. technological and economical index). By means of this, the impact of specific technologies on the overall process and the production could be assessed. Process optimisation was another crucial tool employed within the framework of process design. Optimisation played a decisive role not only during the experimental, but also during the design steps. Process modelling and simulation was applied at this stage of development, particularly in the case of continuous process design. An important approach for the design of more intensive and cost-effective process configurations was process integration. Process integration looked for the integration of all operations involved in the production of sugars or ethanol. This was achieved through the development of integrated (bio)processes that combined different steps into one single unit. The design of cost-effective processes for sugar and fuel ethanol production implied the selection of the most appropriate feedstocks, and the selection and definition of a suitable process configuration making possible the conversion of raw materials into the end product. (Please see the deliverables and milestones reports including D6.1 D6.2 D1.3 and M6.1)

WP7: Innovation related activities

- To ensure that the project results were collected and disseminated in the appropriate manner, including attending at major dissemination events. To ensure that patent applications were registered, to protect future commercial rights.

- Protection of IPR
- Future funding and investment plan
- Exploitation plan
- Dissemination of knowledge.

- Biofuel Wales have filed a patent
- Further potential funding from VC via Biofuel Wales and LJMU contacts with industrial investors
- Exploitation plan and various items identified as an outcome of the project results so far
- Various dissemination activities undertaken in industrial and academic venues at national and international venues.

Due to the nature of the project, the industrial partners have restricted the publications of scientific papers during the life period of the project. The rational behind is to protect the IPR and any foreground that have huge potential for further exploitation by the VC.

The lead SMEs Biofuel Wales (BFW) have formally appointed BDO to carry out the fundraising and they have already created a good deal of interest. BFW had investor meetings in London last week and have another three meetings planned for this week.

BFW already have investor interest from the United Kingdom, Germany, America and Australia and will go live with their updated website soon and expect that to also create investor interest now that the first stage of the R&D programme has been completed.

BFW have also been active in the market place now that they have data and a working prototype of the MICROGRASS. During BFW director Tony Newman recent trip to Australia, he was working with Heather Brody, the CEO of the Australian Biofuels Association. She helped him with a number of introductions including Manildra, Australia's largest bioethanol producer. They have been back to us a number of times since our meeting in Sydney and I expect them to arrange a visit to LJMU in the near future.

BFW are scheduled to visit at least two international trade shows this year to promote the technology.

Finally, despite the current harsh economic climate BFW were very encouraged by the industrial funding response so far and are intending to raise around EUR 2 million and apply for match funding for the second stage of the development programme. (Please see the deliverables and milestones reports including D7.1 D7.2 D7.3 D7.4 and D7.5)

WP8: Coordination and management

- Ensure that the technical developments of the project are carried out in accordance with the work plan and associated project budgets in order to achieve and predefined objectives
- Oversee the project and maintain optimal use of resources in order to maximise project success
- Provide a central base for all aspects of work at consortium level and central liaison point for EU
- Oversee knowledge management and patent protection
- Ensure all legal, contractual and financial obligations are upheld in appropriate manner
- Monitor aspects of gender, equality, ethical and social issues that emerge from the project.

- Coordinate technical activities
- Risk management
- Communications management
- Administration
- Collation of deliverables and milestone reports
- Management agreements
- Consortium administration
- Organisation of exploitation and management meetings
- Gender, equality, ethical and social issues
- Managing of reporting periods.

Our consortium linked together all the project components and adequately maintained communications with the various Commission officials. The members of the core group performed the role of steering the project management, decision-making and dissemination of the obtained results. The project board was composed of a representative from each partner in the consortium and chaired by the project coordinator Prof. Ahmed Al-Shamma'a of LJMU who oversaw the coordination of work packages and decision making across the entire project. Key decisions making requiring further escalation from the coordinator were carried out by the project board thus ensuring that the SMEs remained in control of the project direction and benefits with SMEs having one vote each and the R&D performers not being included in the voting and acting only as advisors. The project coordinator acted as the point of contact to the European Commission with support from the project board. The coordinator was supported in his role by: Simon Bowen from Biofuels as administration manager who will ensured that tasks re managed effectively and that all deliverables were on time; Ahmed from Liverpool conducted the scientific and technical management; and by Tony Newman from Biofuels who was the exploitation and dissemination manager. The routine management decisions and specific deliverables will be undertaken by the leaders of each WP.

Results achieved

This work package ran throughout the project and oversaw the project administration as well as the management of the consortium. (Please see the deliverables reports including D8.1 D8.2 D8.3)

Potential impact:

The final result was the delivery of a completed and integrated novel microwave plasma reactor having the capability for breakdown of cellulosic biomass. This has been proven and evaluated by the industrial partners. We are aiming that the MICROGRASS reactor to be sold to various industries including a group of farmers and the sugar solution obtained after breakdown of the energy crops and cellulosic waste will be sold to ethanol refineries as shown below. On energy basis, ethanol is currently more expensive to produce than gasoline. Only ethanol produced in Brazil comes close to competing with gasoline. Ethanol produced from corn in the USA is considerably more expensive than from sugar cane in Brazil, and ethanol from grain and sugar beet in Europe is even more expensive. These differences reflect many factors, such as scale, process efficiency, feedstock cost, capital and labour cost. We estimated that after the MICROGRASS project the cost of production ethanol from cellulosic biomass will be similar if no lower than the present cost of ethanol produced in Brazil.

Impacts on society

- Greenhouse gas emissions:
Transportation, including emissions from the production of transport fuels, is responsible for about one quarter of global energy related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Transport accounts for 27 % of total emissions in the USA and 28 % of total emissions in the European Union. Although the greenhouse gas emissions in Europe decline overall between 1990 and 2003, the share of emissions from the transport sector increases by 24 %. Typical estimates for net GHG emissions reductions from production and use of cellulosic ethanol are in the range of 70 % to 90 % compared to conventional gasoline. The net GHG reduction can be greater than 100 %, if CO2 absorbed during the growing of the feedstock is greater than the CO2- equivalent emissions released during the entire well to wheels process.

- Reduction in air pollution:
Bioethanol use in its 100 % neat form or more commonly as blends with conventional gasoline can reduce certain vehicle pollutant emissions which exacerbate air quality problems in urban areas. Among the biggest impacts from using ethanol are on reducing carbon monoxides emissions, hydrocarbons, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter. Use of 10 % ethanol blended in gasoline achieved 20 % or greater reduction in carbon monoxide. Bioethanol is less toxic to handle than petroleum fuels and when cellulosic waste is used has the additional environmental benefit of reducing waste through recycling.

- Employment:
Creating employment in agriculture. By generating greater demand for cellulosic biomass agriculture products for producing bioethanol, there is the potential to increase employment in rural areas. A study by the Wuppertal institute found that when biofuels reach 1 % of the fuel supply in Europe, the industry is expected to have created 45 000 to 75 000 new jobs, mostly in agriculture.

Supply chain employment opportunities:
Our proposed technology is expected to generate sales of approximately EUR 111 million by 2015. This has the potential to provide over 790 additional jobs for this supply chain based on the average industry norm of EUR 140 000 of sales per employee.

Project website: