Gateway to a Multi-Biomass Approach

Diversified inputs in novel thermochem platform drive commercialization
By Bryan Sims | October 24, 2011

Nonfood cellulosic materials such as corn stover or wood biomass may receive much feedstock attention in the advanced biofuels and biobased chemical projects, but companies such as New Zealand-based Aquaflow Bionomics Corp., together with Texas-based catalyst developer CRI Catalyst Co., believe that taking a multi-biomass approach to include algae in the mix will maximize the true biorefining potential to market.

Both companies are testing and evaluating projects that bring together Aquaflow’s unique algal capability using an integrated hydropyrolysis and hydroconversion (IH2) technology for the production of green gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. CRI acquired the exclusive global sublicensing rights for the IH2 technology from Des Plaines, Ill.-based nonprofit organization Gas Technology Institute where the technology was originally developed.

According to GTI, IH2 technology is an advanced pyrolysis technology that uses low-pressure hydrogen together with a proprietary catalyst supplied by CRI that removes virtually all of the oxygen found in biomass and produces finished cellulosic gasoline and diesel hydrocarbon blendstocks. No external hydrogen is required because what’s needed is produced in process. Since the process produces its own hydrogen and a surplus of water to be self-sufficient, the IH2 technology is capable of operating in a stand-alone configuration or can be integrated into existing industrial biorefining applications. According to GTI, yields have ranged from 26 to 46 percent depending on the feedstock used.

Since last year, GTI and CRI have collaborated on refining GTI’s IH2 technology when GTI received funding from the U.S. DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Office of Biomass Program under the integrated biorefinery initiative to support a pilot project in Des Plaines. Aquaflow and CRI have supported this development with their participation in the DOE-funded project. Other participants, besides CRI and Aquaflow, are Cargill Inc., Johnston Timber, Blue Marble Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Michigan Technological University. Outside the scope of the DOE-funded project, GTI anticipates scaling up to a 1-ton-per-day pilot facility, which is expected to open in 2013 with commercial introduction of the technology expected by 2014.

“Initially, we’ll focus on setting up a demonstration facility, most likely in the U.S., and from this base we will expand into the project opportunities currently in the Aquaflow pipeline across a number of geographies,” says Aquaflow director Nick Gerritsen.

Gerritsen says Aquaflow and CRI have developed a strong partnership and a shared vision for the future of renewable fuels, adding that the agreement with CRI is the culmination of four years of work that Aquaflow has been doing behind the scenes.
“Aquaflow is one of the first companies in the world to take this broader approach to incorporate algae in feedstocks to enable the near-term production of drop-in fuels and chemicals,” Gerritsen says. “This approach gives us the flexibility to develop a multi-biomass feedstock mix specific to available resources worldwide. We believe this is a significant advance for algal biofuels over lipid extraction approaches to diesel and jet fuel.”

—Bryan Sims