Skip to main content

Injecting New Life into Cellulosic Ethanol Production

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - NewLiEP (Injecting New Life into Cellulosic Ethanol Production)

Reporting period: 2020-08-01 to 2022-01-31

There is a growing need for sustainable liquid biofuels to be used in the transportation sector to replace fossil fuels. Sustainable or advanced bioethanol is produced from renewable feedstock that is not part of the human food or animal feed value chain and has no indirect land use change impacts. The most promising feedstock for advanced bioethanol is lignocellulose from agricultural or forestry residues, but until recently, lignocellulosic bioethanol production has not been economically feasible. In this project NewLiEP a novel approach and concept of more efficient utilization and higher ethanol yield from lignocellulosic residue feedstocks is being further developed and demonstrated in near-industrial scale.

The proposed solution is employing a novel feedstock agnostic concept to build continuous fermentation unit complemented with a novel sophisticated fermentation control system. The solution includes several other features developed by the partners that will be used to further increase the performance and operability of the fermentation.

The solution will be verified and demonstrated for various feedstock sources, which will prove a major advantage compared to current 2G ethanol plants and especially important for operators of ethanol plants when using very heterogeneous residue-based feedstock. The project is carried out by two leading technology players, Terranol A/S and SEKAB E-technology, in cooperation with an investor of a new bioethanol plant, Kanteleen Voima Oy, where the solution will be taken in use in industrial scale.

The fermentation concept, called CoRyFee, combines and utilizes proven knowhow and technologies of the partners. CoRyFee has previously been developed and demonstrated with straw materials and will be further developed to be optimized for soft- and hardwood raw materials. The combined application of CoRyFee continuous fermentation technology, yeast strain cV-110, and new fermentation control system is expected to enable numerous benefits:

• Increasing the productivity of a given size fermentation facility by more than 100% compared to current state of the art;
• Enabling the use of otherwise hitherto nonfermentable material by utilizing biomass hydrolysate with more than twice the amount of inhibitory compounds with help of inhibitor relief technology and yeast optimised to higher inhibitor level;
• Reducing the needed amount of yeast for inoculation by 80% or more compared with current state of the art as a result of using a more efficient yeast strain and novel continuous fermentation strategy;
• Reducing the amount of required personnel to produce a certain amount of ethanol due to higher production rate and higher level of automatization compared with current state of the art;
• Reduction of CAPEX of fermentation unit of at least 50% due to lower volume requirement to produce the same ethanol volume.
Essential to all goals of the project is the access of residual biomass sources containing sufficient amounts of fermentable sugars. An area search for biomass sources in the vicinity of Kanteleen Voima’s planned NordFuel production facility in Finland could identify five suitable subtypes of biomass and relevant amounts of these were shipped to Sekab’s Biorefinery Demonstration Plant (BDP) in Sweden.

Sugar analysis of the various biomass subtype residues show a clear preference for specific subtypes containing lower amounts of branches, tops, and bark. Thus, by selection of high sugar yielding subtypes substantial higher concentrations of fermentable sugars are achievable.

Continuous pre-treatment and hydrolysis experiments with durations exceeding 2 weeks based on the CelluAPP® technology were performed of each subtype and combinations thereby demonstrating actual sugar content at industrial relevant enzyme dosage. The resulting sugar solutions were subsequently shipped to Terranol in Denmark for determination of continuous fermentation conditions including determination of the complete package of micro- and macronutrients reaching the targeted ethanol yield by employing the novel CoRyFee fermentation concept.

The accumulated results and experience from the pre-treatment/hydrolysis and fermentation experiments allowed the partners to plan, execute, and analyse a trial in near-industrial scale in the BDP. The full technology package for biomass into ethanol processing was demonstrated, verified as well as backwards verified. The CoRyFee performance was above that of conventional batch and fed-batch fermentation processes and the set targets regarding yeast consumption, productivity, and ethanol concentration were all reached. Furthermore, the concept’s superiority to operate for a long period of time was confirmed when the continuous setting was maintained without technical or mechanical failure for 14 days. Moreover, no contamination was detected in neither primary nor secondary fermentors.

During the elapsed time of the NewLiEP project, Kanteleen Voima’s Nordfuel biorefinery got an environmental permit and an EU investment approval to support construction of the plant.
Results from reaching beyond the current state-of-the-art of technology covered by project is contingent on successful implementation of the CoRyFee technology with clients and significant progress has already been achieved in the first part of the project.

Increasing revenue with minor changes to existing processes does not only create favourable balance sheets and increased cash flows for clients but also mitigates external market or geopolitical risks. In the grand scheme of European market for biofuels produced in Europe decreases dependence on such fuels produced elsewhere but more importantly on non-bio substitutes coming from within the market or more likely sourced outside of European market.

If employing the developed technology offers more output from same input and minor changes to operation of already existing production of biofuels the returns are not just monetary but also socio-economic. In its simplest form the benefits of such improvements can be seen in the increased shared of revenue mitigating risks of unforeseen risks that may for example cause increased production costs causing disruption along the value-chain. Simplest and fastest measure to mitigate risks at such events is to decrease fixed costs and that is most done through layoffs among employees along the supply chain.

Ripple effects of such increase in transactional costs ripple down across the society at large when incomes decrease, and investments are hampered by risk-off strategy in the short term. That today’s investments are tomorrows increase in revenue and benefit to our shared prosperity and increase in living standards. This line of reasoning could be expanded far beyond the general examples given above but that is not necessary to exemplify the socio-economic impact.

The opposite is true if the technology offers higher revenue in times of stability during which investments can be performed earlier than planned and thus increase general production outputs. And by the previous line of reasoning ripple down along the supply chain related to such investments which in turn increasing economic growth with all the benefits that such development increases.
The Biorefinery Demonstration Plant, Örnsköldsvik, Sweden