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JGC and Arkenol Partner on Waste Wood-Ethanol Plant in US

Flow diagram for Arkenol’s acid-hydrolysis process.

Nikkei. Japan’s JGC Corp. will work with Arkenol in the US to begin production and sales of fuel ethanol made from scrap wood. The two companies will establish a joint venture before the end of the year with the goal of launching production in 2009.

JGC intends to seek US investors and build a ¥5 billion (about US$43 million) plant in California with a capacity of 30,000 kl (7.9 million gallons US) per year. The Japanese firm will supply technology for construction, design and maintenance. Arkenol holds basic patents on technology to produce bioethanol from waste wood.

JGC is a global engineering firm with a focus on plant design and construction and an emphasis on oil and gas fields and utilities.

Arkenol is a California-based technology and project development company whose focus is the construction and operation of ethanol factories worldwide. The company also licenses its ethanol-producing technology to others.

Arkenol developed and has patented an implementation of concentrated acid hydrolysis for the processing of cellulosic biomass into simple sugars suitable for fermenting into ethanol.

The acid hydrolysis process for alcohol production has been known for more than 100 years, but was characterized by poor yields, high wastage, and a large volume of unmarketable by-products. Arkenol developed methods for efficient acid recovery and reconcentration, and for delivering high sugar concentration at high purity.

Incoming biomass feedstocks are cleaned and ground to reduce the particle size for the process equipment. The pretreated material is dried and then mixed with a solution of about 25-90% acid by weight to at least partially decrystallize the materials and form a gel that includes solid material and a liquid portion.

The gel is diluted to an acid concentration of from about 20–30 wt.% heated to a temperature between about 80–100° C. This partially hydrolyzes the cellulose and hemicellulose contained in the starting materials.

The liquid portion and the solid material are separated, thereby obtaining a first liquid containing sugars and acid. The separated solid material is then run through the same process again, hydrolyzing the cellulose and hemicellulose remaining in the separated solid material and forming a second solid material and a second liquid portion.

The two liquid portions are then combined, and the acids separated from the hexose (C6) and pentose (C5) sugars with an Arkenol-developed technology that uses commercially available ion exchange resins. The resulting solution has a sugar content of at least 15% by weight, and an acid content of not more than 3% by weight.

The separated sulfuric acid is recirculated and reconcentrated to the level required by the decrystallization and hydrolysis steps. The small quantity of acid left in the sugar solution is neutralized with lime to make hydrated gypsum, CaSO4 · 2H2O, an insoluble precipitate which is readily separated from the sugar solution and which also has beneficial use as an agricultural soil conditioner.



An Engineer

Ion exchange (chromatographic separation) to recover concentrated sulfuric acid from that mess? Power to them, if they can pull it off.

A while ago all the rage was using this technology to convert some of New York's MSW to ethanol - Somehow that did not work out, and it seems like the Masada Resource Group went bust.

Better luck this time, I guess. Here's what I'd be asking if it was my money: What has changed to make the technology more cost effective this time around?

Rafael Seidl

An Engineer -

well, oil prices are higher. Plus, they may indeed have succeeded in improving the acid separation. The technology had previously received little engineering attention for some time because oil was imply too cheap to bother.

Roger Pham

Good luck. Still sounds like a complicated process. What would be the cost/gallon of the resultant ethanol, and what the EROIE (Energy Returned on Invested Energy) of this process? Corn ethanol has such a poor EROIE(1.5-1.7) that many experts wonder why even bother at all, if not for a strong farming lobby trying to push their business. Sugarcane ethanol, on the other hand, has the EROIE of 8, thus justifying the Brazilian effort.

allen zheng

Perhaps now we can farm our forests/scurb/grasslands for thinings, and not need to control burn as much. The ill concieved, but well intentioned, nuff out all fires policy throughout most of the 20th century has made forests (that have not been cut down) tinderboxes. It amy also reduce the pressure to cut those forests down as well. Since you have high value fuel you can use/sell from the thinnings, better management practices may arise. There are the issues of soil nutrients and transport costs (energy and $), however.

Rafael Seidl

Allen -

the cost of producing and transporting thinnings out of US national forests would be prohibitive, unless the US decided to let in guest workers on the basis of a special short-term visa. The work is, after all, seasonal.

The visa would limit their range of movement to the immediate vicinity of the camp set up by the company that hires them. In addition to regular wages, transportation to and from the US, adequate food & board plus occupational health care, basic entertainment and security would need to be provided as part of the package. They would have legal recourse if their employer abused the terms of the contract.

While some might abuse such a system, I expect there are many more who would accept such terms and leave on time if they knew they could return the next year. Most of these people are extremely poor peasants who just want to make an honest buck to feed their families. They would not risk their lives and indentured servitude by entering illegally if they had a sufficiently attractive alternative.


The US government put out a contract bid to thin the forests in the Tahoe basin years ago. The bark beetle had attacked many trees during the drought and 1 in 5 trees needed to be removed. There were no bidders. It was not profitable for anyone to take the contract 10 years ago. Now with cellulose ethanol, that spreadsheet might change.


Heres the other part of the problem - economically you have to make use of the lignin portion of the wood - you need to sell some electricity. For 43 million, you only have barely enough for all the processing that is envisioned here. Of course this is merely another demonstration plant, so maybe it doesn't need to be economic. But i agree that the chromatographic separaration will be quite difficult, as will the concentrating of the acid.


Lets take into account that each time a plant like this is open its a learning expercence and the next will become cheaper how much was a LCD TV 5 years ago
compared to today.Iraq has reached over a trillion dollars. And i read just to keep a aircraft carrier in the water is over a million a day. We have three there. If we were less dependent on Foreign oil such a large military presence would not be Necessary and could help pay for our Independence.there also needs to be more help from townships to get the bio mass to the plant. much of this is simply sent to local landfills

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