TMO Renewables partners with COFCO and CNOOC on second-generation ethanol in China; cassava residue and stalks
UK-based TMO Renewables Ltd, the developer of a novel thermophilic bacterium and process for converting biomass into fuel ethanol (earlier post), has entered into two separate technology partnerships in China. One is with the Bio-energy and Bio-chemical Division of COFCO, China’s largest diversified products and services supplier in the agribusiness and food industry. The other is with CNOOC New Energy Investment Co, a wholly owned subsidiary of the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), one of the largest state-owned oil companies, and the largest offshore oil and gas producer in China.
Both agreements entail TMO embarking on testing programs jointly with each partner to develop the country’s first fully commercial second-generation ethanol plants using cassava residue and cassava stalk.
The Bio-energy and Bio-chemical Division of COFCO signed an agreement for a joint testing programme to manufacture ethanol from cassava residue and cassava stalk. The purpose of the agreement is to finalize a design package for the first fully commercial second-generation ethanol plant in China. COFCO already has a first-generation cassava ethanol plant with annual capacity of 200,000 tons at Beihai, Guangxi province and will provide residue suitable for 30,000 tons of second-generation ethanol, which will be supplemented with cassava stalk.
Again focusing on the manufacture of ethanol from cassava residue and cassava stalk, the aim of the CNOOC project is to develop an integrated first- and second-generation 180,000 ton plant that CNOOC has applied to build in Nanning, Guangxi province. Set within 60,000 hectares, the site would produce 1.6 million tons of cassava and a similar amount of cassava stalk.
We began collaborating with both CNOOC and COFCO 18 months ago to provide initial technological verification, and are extremely proud to have been selected as their technology partner. These agreements are a significant development for TMO and the advancement of second generation biofuels from biowaste. Having developed these highly significant relationships, we now look forward to the next phase of our work, engineering bespoke commercial production solutions for both of our partners. Working in partnership with both organisations will enable us to utilize our technology on an unprecedented scale and create firsts not just for TMO and China, but the industry as a whole.—Hamish Curran, CEO of TMO
The TMO process exploits two properties of its thermophilic ethanologen, which operates at high temperatures and digests a wide range of raw materials extremely rapidly. First, the high temperature that the organism favors allows fermentation to be performed at temperatures in excess of 60 °C. Since very little cooling or heating is required, there is a significant saving in energy. The heat-loving thermophile grows and produces ethanol very rapidly, and is able to maintain itself at this higher temperature. The resulting intermediate product (the beer) passes on to the purification steps without the need for any additional input of energy.
Second, the organism has a preference for consuming the longer chain sugars that derive from the breakup of biomass. This removes the need to break down the biomass to simpler sugars such as glucose.
TMO says that the combination of this appetite for complex sugars, the speed at which the organism works and the temperature of the process all result in a more cost-effective process.
China has targets of 2.0 million and 10.0 million tonnes of fuel ethanol production in 2010 and 2020. At 10.0 million tonnes, Chinese ethanol production will satisfy a nationwide E5 standard, but will fall some 40% short of a national E10 standard. These targets will likely be strengthened by the imposition of specific blending targets for major distributors.
Excluding food, total available biomass in China is in excess of 1.5 billion tonnes per year. Agricultural waste accounts for an estimated 800 million tonnes with forest and wood waste accounting for the remainder. Not included in these totals is municipal solid waste, which totalled an estimated 248 million tonnes in 2010 and of which more than 100 million tonnes was collected and treated.
All first-generation production capacity utilizing edible feedstock has been banned in China since 2006. At the end of 2010, the government amended the New Energy Law and opened up the market for second-generation fuel ethanol production to private producers for the first time.