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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.



Ethanol is one molecule, one alcohol and one fuel. As long as people think in terms of enzymes, sugars, fermentation and distillation, the ideas will be limited.

Once you start using cellulose you can break it down and ferment the sugars, but you are still limited to that method. That could be fine for existing ethanol plants, but it is time to think outside the box.

Take what you have left and gasify it. Now you can make fuels that go beyond ethanol. You can synthesize the G15 that goes in the E85 and now ALL the fuel is made domestically using NO petroleum. It we are going to go for it, let's go all the way to where we want to be for the next decade to come.


True, but gassification is not very energy-efficient.
biotechnological renewable diesel or jet fuel (from Amyris for instance) is more efficient and gives no waste at all. Moreover, a production facility for diesel can easily be tuned to produce animal fodder, medicines, renewable plastics, or many other complex molecules.
True waste could be transformed true gassification, but for biomass, this may not be the most efficient road.


Syntec produces more than 100 gallons of fuel per ton and that number is increasing. I would like to see your evidence that gasification is "not very energy efficient".
If that were the case, why are BP and others putting in multi billion dollar F/T gasification plants?


"Amyris announced today that it has completed multiple runs of its fermentation process using Amyris engineered yeast to produce Biofene™, Amyris renewable farnesene"

So they have a new kind of yeast, cooking, fermenting and distilling all take energy. It says nothing about there being "no waste" as you have claimed. I see no figures about how much energy this takes versus gasification.


It is community based in the sense that it goes on the community grid, much like the struggle to get Net Metering laws for solar panels. It was good for the grid and the community, but the utilities fought it for decades. If that fight had not been won, we would not have reasonable rates for putting power on the grid and V2G would not be a realistic option.

In Germany, they have feed in tariffs that are set for 20 years. Do farmers put in panels for the good of the community? No, they do it to make money because their laws allow them to produce more power than they use. Our laws vary from state to state and most do not allow that. It is a big political football that has more to do with lobbying that the public good.


Wrong article...

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