Cellulosic Biofuel
With increasing concerns about global warming and dwindling, expensive fossil fuels, many countries are actively seeking a new, better and more sustainable energy structure.

Virtually every Western country and many Asian and South American countries are investing vast amounts of money in research and development, and in building biorefineries to produce biofuels and bioelectricity from a variety of renewable natural raw materials.

For example, under the US 2005 Energy Policy Act, the DOE is planning on displacing traditional fossil fuels with new biofuels by a minimum of 15% by 2017 and more than 30% by 2030. This means that biofuel production must ramp up to about 60 billion gallons (227 billion litres) per year by 2030. And this is only for the USA.

Some natural raw materials such as grains (primarily corn), sugarcane and sugar beets can and are being used for bioethanol fuel production. However, the fermentation processes used to convert these raw materials to ethanol require large amounts of process steam and electric power which often are produced using fossil fuels. And, using grains can impact on food prices as they are used in human foods as well as livestock feed. Furthermore, there may be limitations on the amount of corn grain ethanol that can be produced in the USA with some predicting a maximum of about 15 billion gallons (57 billion litres) per year.  

Renewable biomass resources such as wood waste, agricultural residues and biomass crops are the most plentiful renewable energy resource in the world, a largely untapped resource that can be converted into clean fuels (Fischer-Tropsch biodiesel, cellulosic methanol, cellulosic ethanol, cellulosic butanol etc.) and clean electric power currently produced with fossil fuels. Many of these sources are still commonly considered as nothing more than waste products.

There are two platforms being developed for biomass to biofuel and bioelectricity biorefineries:

ThermoChemical platform which uses low or medium temperature gasification or higher temperature pyrolysis to create a high hydrogen content synthetic gas (syngas) that can be used for electricity generation using gas turbines or catalytically converted into liquid cellulosic biofuels.

BioChemical Platform which uses dilute acid, concentrated acid and/or enzyme hydrolysis to convert (depolymerize) the biomass hemicellulose and cellulose into simpler pentoses (C5 sugars) and glucose (C6 sugars), also called saccarification. These sugars are then fermented and distilled into alcohol (primarily ethanol).

Most of the initiatives for biomass to cellulosic biofuels are looking into highly efficient (high photosynthesis rate) nonwood plants such as switch grass, Miscanthus, elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum Schumacher), Arundo donax (giant reed), cereal straws, corn and other stalks, and other agricultural crops and residuals.  Check out the Bioenergy Feedstock Information Network (BFIN) for more information on potential biomass feedstocks.

Regardless of the approach, a biomass to biofuel and/or bioelectricity project typically involves the harvesting, baling, transportation, long term storage and preparation of very large volumes of biomass ( examples of high biomass demand ). And, in the case of agricultural residues and crops, they are typically harvested in 6 - 8 weeks and need to be stored for an entire year to feed the biofuel or bioelectricity facility.  As described in Mr. Robert Hurter's paper Nonwood Fiber Raw Materials and the Biorefinery , these projects will encounter many challenges.

Very few companies globally have the experience and expertise to develop and design the systems necessary to provide large volumes of biomass, particularly agricultural residues and biomass crops, on a sustained basis to biofuel and bioelectricity plants.

HurterConsult is one of those companies. Our experience in handling and storing large volumes of agricultural residues and biomass crops for the pulp and paper industry will be invaluable to biomass to biofuel and bioelectricity project developers.  We know how to deal with these crops, what it takes to harvest them, what are the infrastructure requirements, what it takes to store them for long periods, and how to prepare them for use in biorefineries. Contact us for more information on how we can assist you.

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