BlueFire Ethanol completes vendor testing

By Jessica Ebert
BlueFire Ethanol Inc., a California-based cellulosic ethanol company, recently completed vendor testing of three key systems as part of the final engineering for the company's full-scale waste-to-ethanol production process.

At press time, the company planned to break ground on a 3.1 MMgy ethanol plant in Lancaster, Calif., in mid-March and a 17 MMgy ethanol facility in Corona, Calif., by the end of the year. "We're ready to go," said Arnold Klann, chief executive officer and president of BlueFire. "We ran these tests strictly to help the equipment suppliers finalize their designs on the equipment for the right sizing."

The equipment is designed to process a variety of biomass feedstocks ranging from wood chips to municipal solid waste. The testing was carried out at the headquarters of B&P Process Equipment in Saginaw, Mich., the vendor for the decrystalyzer that BlueFire will use in its process. In addition to the decrystalyzer, BlueFire tested hydrolyzer and filter press equipment from separate vendors. "Every company that manufactures equipment has different performance characterizations," Klann explained. "We set up a testing protocol at B&P and ran the feedstock that we will be utilizing at the Lancaster facility through their equipment using our process conditions."

The three pieces of technology represent three early steps in the waste-to-biofuel process. The decrystalyzer is the first piece of equipment that the cellulose feedstock comes into contact with. It's a kind of mixer that covers the feedstock with sulfuric acid. This initiates the early chemical reactions that will ultimately break the cellulose free from its lignin cage. From the decrystalyzer, the slurry goes into a hydrolyzer. Water is added at this stage to change the concentration of the sulfuric acid, and allow for the complete separation of the cellulose sugars and lignin. From there, the viscous solution is pumped into a filter press, and the sugary liquids are squeezed from the solids, which form a lignin cake. The resulting sugar/acid/water solution then goes into a chromatographic system for the separation of the sugars from the acid, which is then recycled. This step in the process is currently being tested at a separate vendor facility.

Based on information from a biorefinery in Izumi, Japan, which also uses an acid-hydrolysis process, the results of BlueFire Ethanol's vendor tests show improved yields and better performance, Klann said. "The next step is to break ground and start building," he added.