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Injecting New Life into Cellulosic Ethanol Production

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - NewLiEP (Injecting New Life into Cellulosic Ethanol Production)

Période du rapport: 2022-02-01 au 2022-07-31

There is a growing need for sustainable liquid biofuels to be used in the transportation sector to replace fossil fuels and 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 will be 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 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 know-how and technologies of the partners. 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 amount 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 subtypes 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 relevant 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 prepare, 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 results from performed trials showed that the CoRyFee Technology 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 or exceeded in relation to set project goals. Furthermore, the concepts superiority to operate for a long period of time was confirmed when the continuous setting was maintained without bacterial infections, technical or mechanical failures for the duration of 14 days of continuous operation.

It can be established that the CoRyFee Technology is a fast and stable concept offering a high revenue opportunity allowing cellulosic ethanol plants to operate at full capacity fast enough after permitting and construction, thereby mitigating the most important risk of all, “the Valley of Death”.

Kanteleen Voima’s Nordfuel biorefinery in Haapavesi has received the necessary environmental permits and an EU investment approval to support construction of the plant. The biorefinery utilizes existing buildings and infrastructure and the site preparation is scheduled for completion by the end of 2022.
Significant progress from technology standpoint has been achieved with clearly improved production benefits in relation to current state-of-the-art technologies.

Employing the developed technology offers more output from same input and minor changes to operation of already existing production of advanced biofuels, the returns are not just monetary but also socio-economic. The benefits of such improvements can be seen in the increased share of revenue mitigating 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 mostly done through layoffs of employees along the supply chain.

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. More importantly on non-bio substitutes coming from within the market or more likely sourced outside of European market. There is no reference made to current or future occurrences of geopolitical risks or specific substitutes by non-biofuels produced elsewhere or for that matter imported biofuels. Disruptions in supply chains is another example of clear risks of non-European production or imports dependence of energy, among them biofuels. This should not be interpreted as analysis or contribution to the debate of current or past events that may be temporary but rather viewed in the bigger picture of future European socio-economic impacts and energy independence for the entire European Union.

The opposite is true if technology development and deployment of such offers higher revenue in times of stability during which investments can be made 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