Qteros, ACT collaborate on wastewater-to-ethanol process

By Lisa Gibson
Posted October 8, 2009, at 2:40 p.m. CST

Massachusetts-based Qteros and Israel-based Applied CleanTech have teamed up to provide a package solution for wastewater treatment plants to convert their municipal wastewater and sewage sludge into ethanol.

Qteros' Q microbe, touted for its one-step cellulosic ethanol fermentation method, will supplement ACT's Sewage Recycling System to accomplish a high-yield waste-to-ethanol process that can be licensed to wastewater treatment plants, providing a potential revenue source. The SRS is used on a commercial scale now in Israel and some U.S. locations, including in Ohio, and converts the wastewater to ACT's proprietary Recyllose products, which improve cellulosic ethanol efficiency by 20 percent over higher lignin feedstocks, according to Qteros. "The real benefit of this feedstock is it's almost exclusively cellulosic once it goes through the SRS," said Jef Sharp, Qteros founder and executive vice president.

This will be the first waste product feedstock for the Q microbe, which is used to ferment materials like corn stover, sugarcane and woody biomass. "The benefit for this announcement is that it shows the versatility of the Q microbe," Sharp said. After the Recyllose is produced, it will need to go through Qteros' proprietary pretreatment process, Sharp said. "In order to make it appetizing for the Q microbe, we have to use our own process," he said. The microbe, found near a reservoir in Massachusetts, breaks down the plant material into sugars and ferments it into ethanol in one step, with no additional enzymes required. Its process partner, SRS, extracts rather than digests biosolids from raw sewage, reducing sludge formation by up to 75 percent, according to ACT. The resulting Recyllose can also be used for on-site electricity generation.

In most cases, the combined process would be set up on-site at the treatment plant and operated by the plant or a third party, Sharp said. The customer will determine if it wants to produce ethanol, or sell the Recyllose to ethanol plants. "The higher-value product would be ethanol, but it requires more capital," he said.

Qteros and ACT researchers have found that an ethanol production plant can produce 120 to 135 gallons of ethanol per ton of Recyllose, according to Qteros. Research has been funded in part by a grant from the Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation.

The companies will focus on larger municipalities, with 1 million or more people. "The beauty of this feedstock is it's created where the ethanol is needed," Sharp said. "It's kind of a surprise feedstock; it's a low-hanging fruit." It will be economic sooner in the "evolution of cellulosic ethanol" than other cellulosic feedstocks, he added.