May 3, 2006

BRI Energy - Converting Blended Feedstock into Ethanol

Given a choice of three biomass conversion processes, which is the most promising for greatly expanding the nation's ethanol production?
1) sugar fermentation which only works on sugar crops (like corn kernels and sugar cane);
2) enzymatic hydrolysis which relies on the development of specific enzymes to convert a variety of unblended cellulosic feedstock (like corn stover and switchgrass) into sugars that can then be conventionally fermented into ethanol;
3) syngas fermentation which converts blended or unblended cellulosic feedstock (including all of the above and other crops, plus agricultural, forestry, and urban waste, and even fossil fuels) into ethanol while co-generating electricity.

Bill Bruce, President of BRI Energy, LLC, justifiably contends that the answer is syngas fermentation. Not only would the process' feedstock flexibility greatly increase the volume of biomass available to convert, but decentralized facilities could be used to solve both energy and waste disposal problems for a rural and urban communities alike. For instance, success of Los Angeles' comprehensive landfill diversion program, R.E.N.E.W. L.A., depends on the permitting of six plants using technology like BRI Energy's syngas fermentation process.

Testifying at a Congressional hearing this week, Bruce provided a glimpse of what the potential is for his company's patented processes. Not only that, but he revealed that BRI Energy is working on a developed plan to build two commercial-scale ethanol facilities at the vacant K-31 complex at the Oakridge National Laboratory (ORNL) near Knoxville, Tennessee.

As reported in the Green Car Congress blog May 1st (BRI Energy Seeking to Build Two Gasification-Fermentation Ethanol Plants) the company will begin construction as soon as Department of Energy federal loan guarantees are approved.

The first plant would use gasification to convert Western coal into ethanol. Since gasification operates in a closed environment, no toxic emissions would result from the process.The coal gasification facility would cost $25 million, and the company is seeking a $20-million federal loan guarantee.

The second plant would use blended municipal solid waste (MSW) from Knoxville as the feedstock and convert that as well into ethanol. The municipal waste facility would require $62.5 million in private investment and a $250-million federal loan guarantee.

Both facilities would use the heat in the gasification process to co-generate electricity which would be added to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) grid.

The Knoxville News Sentinel also reported on the announcement in their story titled Company plans big ethanol plant in Oak Ridge. Anticipation of 500 new high quality jobs in a clean, breakthrough technology is good news to their readership.

These innovative commercial-scale deployment projects provide the federal government a crucial role to play toward reduction of our fossil fuel addiction - while reducing landfills, greenhouse gases, and unemployment.

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