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BlueFire Ethanol Targeting 1.5B Gallons Per Year of Cellulosic Ethanol by 2012

Overview of 10-step BlueFire (Arkenol) process. Click to enlarge.

BlueFire Ethanol has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with MECS, Inc. (formerly Monsanto Enviro-Chem Systems, Inc.) as its lead Engineering Procurement and Construction contractor for BlueFire’ cellulosic ethanol plants.

BlueFire’s goal is to design, develop and construct 20 biomass-to-ethanol plants in the next 6 years totaling 1.5 billion gallons in production and approximately $2.7 billion in gross revenue by 2012 with earnings in excess of $1.6 billion.

MECS will work with BlueFire and JGC to complete design and commence construction of its first cellulosic plant by the second quarter of 2007.

BlueFire Ethanol was established to use the Arkenol process (earlier post) for the conversion of cellulosic waste material to ethanol.

The Arkenol process uses concentrated acid hydrolysis to process 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.

Cleaned, dried and ground biomass is 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, an insoluble precipitate which is readily separated from the sugar solution and which also has beneficial use as an agricultural soil conditioner.

BlueFire can use post-sorted municipal solid waste (MSW), rice and wheat straws, wood waste and other agricultural residues. BlueFire plans to locate their cellulose conversion facilities on landfills throughout North America, initially focusing on the California fuel market.

MECS has built a reputation as a world leader in the design and construction of chemical plants. MECS also develops and delivers value added leading edge technologies to help improve plant productivity and reduce its energy costs.

BlueFire’s cellulose processing technology and business opportunities together with MECS’ capabilities built on a heritage of nearly 100 years is an alliance that will lead to a very competitive solution for producing cellulosic ethanol from various biomass substrates.

—P.J. Desai, President of MECS

Japanese engineering firm JGC built a pilot plant using Arkenol technology in 2000, and has been running it since. In June, Arkenol and JGC agreed to partner with Arkenol and BlueFire on a waste wood to ethanol plant in the US. (Earlier post.)

In August, BlueFire Ethanol signed a Letter of Intent (LOI) with Petro-Diamond, Inc. for that company’s purchase of the ethanol produced from BlueFire’s first North American Biomass-to-Ethanol conversion facility located at a Southern California landfill. (Earlier post.)




I would much rather see large scale gasification for power, SNG, methanol, ethanol or F/T to kerosene, gasoline or diesel.

richard schumacher

What is the net energy balance of their process?


You would have to quantify the energy used to grow the feedstock. How much energy does it take to grow native switchgrass on marginal land. Then how much energy does it take to mow it..etc.


This process is focused on using 'waste' materials for feedstock. So the energy costs for production are already accounted for in the original products. The energy balance, unless using purposefully grown switchgrass or willow, would be for the sorting, grinding, drying, heating, mixing, chemical inputs, and reconcentrating. Seems like a lot of work, but there would be GHG advantages over composting or directly burying where methane might be produced and not recovered. Plus, it takes energy (usually fossil fuel combustion) to bury waste.


I read some of their info. They use concentrated sulfuric acid, recycle the acid and claim to use less energy in the process. How much less was not stated.
This is still a fermentation process, it is just that they claim to convert more of the cellulose to sugars. I still like gasification, more flexible.

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