Wednesday, June 22, 2011
A compost bacteria bred by a British company could be set to transform both the profitability and environmental credentials of the U.S. ethanol industry.
"The application of our technology results in the greening of corn ethanol," Hamish Curran, chief executive officer of TMO Renewables Ltd said in an interview on Tuesday.
The company provides an industrial unit, or plug-in, which can be attached to a biofuel plant to boost output by recycling a by-product of the initial fuel run.
"If they take a plug-in from TMO, corn ethanol becomes an advanced biofuel," he said, referring to biofuels which provide savings of at least 50 percent in greenhouse gas emissions compared with mineral petroleum.
TMO has developed an industrial process built around common bacteria developed from a strain found in compost heaps which can be retro-fitted to U.S. corn ethanol plants.
Curran said the TMO technology uses a by-product of the U.S. corn ethanol industry, distillers' grains, converting it into additional ethanol and boosting production levels by about 15 percent.
He said U.S. corn ethanol plants also currently use large amount of energy drying the distillers' grains before selling it as fodder for livestock.
The TMO process uses the material while still wet, allowing substantial energy savings as well as additional output, raising profit margins by 50 to 60 percent, he said.
Biofuels are currently made mainly from food crops such as grains, vegetable oils and sugar cane, which has led to debate about whether they might help to drive up food prices.
They are seen as a way to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases believed to contribute to climate change but environmental groups have questioned the green credentials of some processes, including U.S. corn-derived ethanol.
Many firms want to develop so-called second generation fuels which use non-edible products such as corn stover, the stalks and leaves of the corn plant, or even municipal waste.
Curran said 25 owners of U.S. ethanol plants had expressed interest in the process and full-scale industrial trials had been conducted for four of them at the company's demonstration plant in Dunsfold Park, just south of London.
He said TMO was working with ethanol producers to secure federal and state grants as well as loan guarantees for the plug-ins.
Curran said the company had also received interest from China with a delegation set to visit later this month centered around using the TMO process to turn products such as rice straw or wood waste into fuel.
On their web site, TMO says, "Our process is available immediately under licence to the ethanol industry, where it can achieve a dramatic and instantaneous increase in profitability.
"Performing equally well in our own demonstration plant as it did on the laboratory desk, it is ultimately scaleable in the industrial context.
"The organism at the core of our process is thermophilic (thrives under high temperatures), which greatly reduces the energy costs involved in conventional ethanol production.
"The process requires the addition of relatively small quantities of enzyme, and takes hours, rather than days."