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BRI Energy Seeking to Build Two Gasification-Fermentation Ethanol Plants

BRI Process schematic. Click to enlarge.

BRI Energy, a company that ferments gasified waste, biomass or hydrocarbons such as coal into ethanol (earlier post) announced tentative plans to build one or two gasification-fermentation facilities in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

BRI hopes for federal loan guarantees for part of the funding of both projects: one to convert western coal to ethanol, and the other to convert burnable municipal waste (paper, plastic, garbage, leather) to ethanol.

The coal gasification facility would cost $25 million, and the company is seeking a $20-million federal loan guarantee. The municipal waste facility would require $62.5 in private investment and a $250-million federal loan guarantee.

The BRI process utilizes a culture of anaerobic acetogenic bacteria (Clostridium ljungdahlii) that ingests syngas and emits ethanol at a yield of some 75 gallons or more per dry ton of biomass. From used tires or hydrocarbons it can yield approximately 150 gallons or more per ton.

The first stage of the process uses established gasification or plasma arc technologies to generate a carbon monoxide-rich syngas. During the gasification process, the temperature and access to outside air is controlled and restricted in two sequential chambers. Because of this, the air emissions are minimal.

The carbon monoxide gas exits the gasifier at temperatures up to 2,200°F, then must be cooled to 100° before being fed to the microorganisms. This process generates an immense amount of waste heat that can be used to create high-temperature steam to drive electric turbines.

In the second stage of the process, the C. ljungdahlii bacteria ingest the carbon monoxide gas and produce ethanol, acetic acid, hydrogen and water.

There are a number of anaerobic bacteria in addition to C. ljungdahlii that can utilize the components of synthesis gas (CO, CO2, and H2) as carbon and energy sources : Clostridium thermoaceticum, Clostridium autoethanogenum, Peptostreptoccus productus, Eubacteriam limosum, Butyribacterium mehylotrophicum, and Clostridium acetobutylicum.

The basic chemistry of the conversion of syngas to ethanol and acetic acid by C. ljungdahlii is as follows:

6CO + 3H2O → CH3CH2OH [Ethanol] + 4CO2

2CO2 + 6H2 → CH3CH2OH + 3H2O

4CO + 2H2O → CH3COOH [Acetic acid] + 2CO2

2CO2 + 4H2 → CH3COOH + 2H2O

The last step is to separate the ethanol from the hydrogen and water. This is accomplished through the same distillation process that is currently being used in traditional corn and sugar to ethanol plants.

BRI expects to develop modular plants the capacities of which can be expanded. The company envisions a single module combining two gasifiers, each with a capacity of approximately 125 tons of feedstock per day, and two fermenters.

BRI President William Bruce is testifying before the Senate Energy and Natural resources Committee today in a hearing on Coal Gasification.



Joe Rocker

I think coal ethanol has a higher potential to free us from foreign oil than corn ethanol. I don't know about the environmental concerns. I am more worried about my gas money going to communist dictators and Ayatollahs overseas.


Does anyone know, is there a way to turn hydrogen into ethanol?

What I am wondering is if it would be possible to create ethanol from electricity derived from solar panels or windmills. I know you can create hydrogen from electricity and water, but can you then turn that hydrogen into ethanol? I am curious if you can do it either organically with bacteria or inorganically. Any information would be helpful. Thanks.


You can't turn hydrogen into ethanol. Ethanol is a two-carbon alcohol, so unless you plan to use fusion energy, you can't get it from just hydrogen. :)

An Engineer

Why would you convert syngas into ethanol? Does it qualify you for a generous farm subsidy?

Converting syngas to typical petrochemicals (including gasoline and diesel) has been done for more than 50 years in South Africa. It's old hat and it works.

Ethanol on the other hand, cannot be pumped (like gasoline) due to corrosion issues, tied to ethanol's hygroscopic nature. It also increases vapor pressure when blended with gasoline, i.e. increases evaporative loss and emissions. It also needs a lot of energy to separate ethanol from water in the first place.

In short, ethanol is not the siver bullet the MSM and some politicians are meking it out to be...


I'm with Joe Rocker. We should be going full speed on energy self sufficency and fine tune the sustainability and environmental issues are we go. From what I read on this site, the creative talents are fired up and the proposals are going to address all three area.

But we are at the mercy of people who are not our best friends and it is a very very uncomfortable feeling.

An Engineer

BTW Cervus,
Look at the second chemical reaction listed above: you can apparently react hydrogen with CO2 to get ethanol. No need for fusion.


Engineer: I was being facetious, since the poster above apparently thought you could use just hydrogen.

gerald earl

I have been waiting for more news on bri.From their previous appearance on gcc I got the impression that this process could have wide application.
There is no competition between coal,corn,trash etc. because this process can use all of these feedstocks.Startech process may be better for hazardous waste processing{although the piece mentions plasma arc tech dont think previous story did}.This BRI process produces electricity,ethenol,acetic acid,hydrogen and water.Emisions are "mimimal" I would hazard to guess this to be far superior to oil refining.I couldnt log on to testifying link,it was overloaded,hopefully the fact that they are in the halls of congress means this tech can get wide distribution quickly.If the promised reults are true I am behind the fed guaruntees.Engineers of gcc what do you think?Is my giddiness warranted or has this rube just been sold the perpetual motion machine?


A carbon tax could tilt the preferred feedstock to bio rather than fossil carbon, though it could be an administrative nightmare. Oil depletion looks like it will require millions of barrels per day in replacements, not the thousands talked about with these unconventional fossil fuels. Nonetheless I think Mother Nature is giving us a last chance to get emissions down so I think we should get it right.

gerald earl

The need to pump the ethanol may be lessened by the fact that these could be installed at every dump in America.The wide variety of feedstcks meens it could produce fuel at sites all over.Forestry byproducts,old tires,cow dung,corn stalks etc etc.I think the potential for solutions may far outweigh the limitations.As a part of a distributed energy production base it would be far less susceptible to terrorism than the refineries today are.Our domestic economy would benefit from the production instead of oil powers that fund the terrorists.Our sons and daughters would not have to defend overseas energy supplies if this and other domestic distributed sources are developed.


As far as GHG emissions go, ethanol from coal looks like a loser to me. If you can really get diesel or gasoline from biomass, that looks like a big winner to me.

Jesse Jenkins

Any word on how much electricity is co-produced in BRI's process? I assume that with a gasification-style cellulosic ethanol plant, a significant quantity of electricity can be co-produced with the ethanol, greatly improving the environmental impact and profitability of these plants.

This study from Argonne National Labs discusses a similar (theoretical) design for a biomass gasification refinery and concludes that a yield of 105 gals of ethanol and 604 kWh of electricity per dry ton of switchgrass is feasible. That's not too shabby, to say the least. I'm excited to see one of these plants being built as it could signal the start of a new phase of very efficient cellulosic ethanol plant construction.

Given the 1.3 billion dry ton annual supply of biomass assumed to be technically recoverable by the USDOE and USDA, that amounts to enough biomass to produce almost 136 billion gallons of ethanol (~10.4 quadrillion Btus or 65% of 2004 light duty vehicle energy use [see EIA AOE2006]) PLUS 785.6 billion kWhs of electricity (~2.7 quadrillion Btus or 20% of total US electricity generation in 2004) using a plant like the one described by Argonne. Needless to say, that's quite a significant impact on our domestic energy security and global climate change concerns.

Of course, not all of that 1.3 billion dry tons would be economically recoverable in the near future (the figures are for mid-20th century) and by the time they are, demand will have surely grown (for both electricity and vehicle fuel), but with gasification biorefineries like these, cellulosic biomass could become a major source of electricity and transportation fuel.


Is there any reason that ethanol production by this fermentor is better than F-T synthesis of higher quality hydrocarbon fuels? I am under the impression that the big obstacle to F-T is the energy intensity of the gasification. Once you've got syn gas, it seems, as others have suggested, that there are better things to make than ethanol.

allen zheng

An enormous and obvious glaring inefficiency in this process. It is also easy to remedy. The ethanol distillation has no (on this diagram) post-distillation heat recovery for various internal and external uses (such as preheating before distillation, or the production of steam/hot water for various electrical and chemical production).

tom deplume

The BRI system could use the steam exhaust from the turbine driven generator for distillation heat.
Why ethanol? It has much lower emission characteristics than gasoline or diesel and can be used by both spark and compression ignition engines with little modification.

An Engineer

Why ethanol? It has much lower emission characteristics than gasoline or diesel and can be used by both spark and compression ignition engines with little modification.
Uhm, so why not convert the syngas to gasoline (and diesel) and have no modification at all? Also, FT gasoline can be pumped (unlike ethanol) and has lower vapor pressure (i.e. lower evaporative loss and VOC emissions) than ethanol-gasoline mixtures. No need for hype about flex-fuel vehicles (Apologies to GM). Just change the fuel to integrate seemlessly into existing infrastructure...


If you can perform F-T synthesis on syngas from waste as cheaply as the bacteria can ferment the stuff, go for it.

An Engineer

EP, which part of fermentation is so cheap? Is it the high preparation cost (because only simple sugars can be fermented)? Is it the low yield (because the produced ethanol inhibits growth of the fermenting bacteria)? Or is it the cost of distilling (and redistilling) the ethanol?


I thought they answered that already.  It's cheap because the bugs make and renew their own catalysts, and you've got the distilling heat for free as a byproduct of the gasifier.

If you have figures showing that the syngas-to-wheels efficiency is higher for F-T diesel than ethanol, I'd love to see them.  It would be one more nail in the coffin of ethanol (esp. E85 and flex-fuel CAFE credits), but I'm not going to go into that argument without data.

An Arkansan

From my study I have seen that the reason the BRI process is superior to F-T technology is the significantly reduced cost of production. I have been given estimates showing production costs of about 50 cents per gallon. The major reasons for the fuel efficiency include:

1. Feedstock cost - the facility can often get paid tipping fees for taking the feedstock, eg, in the case of municipal solid waste.

2. Energy cost - the process is a producer of electricity; it can be adjusted to produce relatively more ethanol or more electricity, depending on market forces.

3. No costly enzymes - the bacteria do all the work for you. They produce their own enzymes in exchange for nutrient broth.

Also, the F-T technology is very non-specific in its production of hydrocarbons, ie, you get a significant amount of undesirable by-products, which limits your carbon yield for fuel. In comparison, the products of the BRI process from the Syngas are exclusively ethanol and water. That is why the BRI process is so unique (and valuable). The bacterium has been engineered for 15 years to produce only ethanol, as opposed to a blend of ethanol, methanol, acetic acid, etc.

The claim of no significant emissions is real. I have seen the data from the pilot facility performed by an independent California laboratory. The main emission is CO2, which is more than offset by the CO2 taken up by the biomass.

I would personally love to see this technology successfully commercialized because of its possible environmental impact, not to mention the economic/political possibilities.

An Engineer

Thanks Arkansan,
1. Feedstock cost - the facility can often get paid tipping fees for taking the feedstock, eg, in the case of municipal solid waste.
Ditto for gasification/Fischer-Tropsch. In fact, that would be major benefit of F-T over corn ethanol.

2. Energy cost - the process is a producer of electricity; it can be adjusted to produce relatively more ethanol or more electricity, depending on market forces.
I believe the same is true for F-T - you can combine it with CC to generate electricity.

3. No costly enzymes - the bacteria do all the work for you. They produce their own enzymes in exchange for nutrient broth.
That is the point of the gasification step: instead of hydrolysis to yield sugar, you gasify to yield syngas. No cellulase enzymes required.

EP, you may be right. From what limited data I can obtain it appears that G/F-T of biomass yields about 26 gal/dry ton of biomass, with hopes of doubling that in the near future (http://www.ecn.nl/_files/bio/RX03014.pdf see slide #10). That is still behind the 75 gal/dry ton mentioned above.

We'll see I guess. Perhaps there is something to combining gasification with a fermantation step. Time will tell...


That paper describes a system (page 7, slide 10) which includes a generator driven by the F-T off-gas; without accounting for the fraction of syngas sent to the generator, it's impossible to say that its efficiency is better or worse.  The 210 liter/ton yield may involve substitution of gas recycling and closed-loop mixture control.

At 210 l/ton (about 55 gallons/ton) it looks rather close in efficiency to an ethanol yield around 100 gallons/ton given the differing heating value of ethanol vs. diesel.  Both fuels are storable for years, ethanol can be blended with gasoline, F-T diesel cannot (though some of the F-T fractions may make good gasoline).

Looks almost like a tossup.  I'd like to see the efficiency from gasification to electricity or conversion of the biomass to char and use in zinc reduction for zinc-air fuel cells, as long as we're considering alternative fuel cycles.

An Engineer

I think I got the answer, finally: Choren's Sun Diesel claims to get 1 liter of diesel from 4 kg of wood (http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,2144,2023932,00.html). That would be 60 gal/ton of biomass. Factoring in ethanol's lower BTU/gal (= 60% of diesel and = 67% of gasoline), that put G/F-T in front as 75 gal of ethanol per ton is only 45 gal diesel equivalent per ton.

Lalitt Kr Bhanndari

Yes I would be very pleased if commercial plant comes-up with this technology.

If someone can answer why BRI took so long to make it commercial and still seems not very near commercailisation.

Does anybody have answer on the ethanol which comes from the fermentor which is less than 2% in the broth to save the bacteria the cost involved in recovery will be viable or not.

     Orlowski Zygmunt

METOZ will be able to create A NEW KIND OF CLEAN ENERGY.
My idea is very difficult for understanding. It is not difficult for engineer - mechanic, who knows very good the Pascal’s law and even-arm lever.

The entire world is looking for a source of clean energy. I have discovered a certain paradox basing on which a machine called METOZ can be built which by harnessing the gravitation of our EARTH can produce clean energy.
The energy producing process is demonstrated in:
and can be very easily confirmed by an experiment.
I am also in possession of a set of calculations which prove that the METOZ machine:
1/ does not consume water / 39 A5-pictures /;
2/ does not consume compressed air / 39 A5-pictures /;
3/ produces energy to the outside = 4 839 kGm during a „swing cycle” /39 A5-pictures /;
/ this is a „weight cycle” = the centre of gravity of the water in the METOZ machine sinks ( downward movement ) /
4/ energy is produced / released to the outside = 44 600 kGm during the „straightening cycle” / 39 A5-pictures /.
/ this is a “pressure cycle” = the water mass centre of gravity inside the METOZ machine travels upwards (upward movement) /
Features: 1/; 2/; 3/; 4/, of the machine owing to appropriate dimensions of individual elements of the lever mechanism.
The METOZ has an even-arm lever of a 1.72 m length. The centre of gravity of the lever lies beneath the lever suspension point. The METOZ is equipped with two cylinders of a 1.6 m diameter each. Piston sidewalls do not contact directly with cylinder walls. The lever swing changes between 0 and 25 dgr
Figures ( 3 x 13 x 4 = 156 ) present temporary, consecutive action situations at intervals of . The middle figure presents the machine and the side figures the position of the left and right cylinder and the mathematical description of these situations.
In the past I have made two models, which confirmed the legitimacy of my theoretical assumptions concerning the METOZ machine. I have got photographs.
I am looking for a person who would be interested in my invention. I can offer ample information. I look forward to hearing from you.


03 - 08 -2006 Gdynia, Polska Zygmunt Orłowski
P.S. The term “gravitational paradox” use in this description relates to the mathematical and physical description of the action of the METOZ-machine.


Orlowski Zygmunt
Poland 2006
index html
“METOZ” is able to realize the cycle “deflection” and the cycle “straighening.” Both cycles are in accordance with current physic’s laws. “METOZ” as machine can not work and hand over the energy because it would be inconsonant to the law of conservation of energy.
I propose to execute the following intelectual process:
we have found ourselves in the Europe of XVII century. We know the trigonometry in the scope of being occured for “METOZ.” We know what is the even-arm lever and moment of force too. Just appeears Mr. Baise Pascal / 1623–1662/ and he publishes his hydraulics law with adequated experiment. All thinkers are sure that this law is correct and quite real. This time someone invents machine “METOZ”. Now turn up the following questions:
1/ why the implementation of the cycle “deflection” is impossible?
2/ why the implementation of the cycle “straightening” is impossible?Both groups: opponents and followers of bulding “METOZ” live in XVII–th century and they not know that:
a/ the idea of an “energy” will be introduced into science scarlerly in mid. of XIX century,
b/ the law of conservation of the energy will be exist scarlerly after 1847 y.
Please open GOOgle and klick metozor and after : index of metozor At is site that explains technical details in easy to understand language. example : http://www.nets.pl/~metozor/for_greenpeace.html or
Everyone is able to build just the model of METOZ machine and test it. Please, have a look at http://www.nets.pl/~metozor/supplement.html Perhaps METOZ is some duplicating machine of a clean energy.
I am inventor and owner of Metoz machine invention. Everyone can take absolutely and legitimate the METOZ invention and build the Metoz machine. I can help only. I can not build METOZ. I am moneyless. Thank you for your time and interest.

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