In Case You Missed the Show

A recap of the Southeast Biomass Conference
By Ron Kotrba | December 02, 2010

Best-growing practices for Freedom Giant Miscanthus, unique renewable fuel production pathways and everything in between were covered in the biorefining breakout sessions at BBI International’s Southeast Biomass Conference & Expo in Atlanta. Nearly 600 people registered for the show. If you missed it, here’s a CliffsNotes-style recap.

The Freedom variety of Giant Miscanthus was the topic of Phillip Jennings’ talk.  He’s CEO of Repreve Renewables, which developed a salt-tolerant variety that grows wonderfully on marginal soils. With operations in Soperton, Ga., Repreve Renewables has 400 acres of the C4 tall grass planted.

Phillip Steele, a Mississippi State University professor, discussed two-stage hydroprocessing of bio-oil from fast pyrolysis of biomass. “[Bio-oil] is a recalcitrant chemical compound with a lot of water,” Steele said. Once the second stage is completed, however, water and oxygen content are eliminated and the acidity is lowered to a neutral pH. His advice for project developers is, “Work out a pyrolysis process, get a market for boiler fuel going and get cash flowing, then think about hydrocarbons for on-road fuel.” 

After anaerobic digestion to get a methane-rich gas, Jeff Sherman, an executive with GRT Inc., said his company’s BTF Process to turn biomass into fuel involves a bromine-mediated light alkalane conversion. “Instead of using oxygen to activate the methane molecule, we use bromine,” Sherman said. “A zeolite catalyst couples them together…” BTF is a three-step process, he said, and is simple, requiring no reformer or air separation.

Well-known Auburn professor David Bransby overviewed today’s emerging technologies. He warned the U.S. must pay attention to what other countries are doing, or get left behind. Senior chemist at National Renewable Energy Lab, David Johnson, spoke on converting lignin to hydrocarbon fuels, the improvements of which still needed include better control of hydroprocessing catalysts, and lowering the cost of base recycling.

Growing enough biomass in a given area to feed algae was what Don Llewellyn, assistant professor at Eastern Kentucky University, talked about. His project is investigating locating a biorefinery in Clark County, Ky., around which enough biomass can be grown and broken down to feed enough heterotrophic, bioreactor-grown algae to produce 50 MMgy of oil a year.

Enzymes to break down pectin, or pectinases, found in the hind gut of the crane fly was the topic of discussion, along with the modified yeast AJP50, for Joy Doran Peterson, associate professor at University of Georgia.

Alan Lawson, president and CEO of Georgia Alternative Fuels, said his company is developing an electrochemical process that creates a free radical chain reaction, “the propagation effect.” He said, “It takes off at the speed of light. … We let the free radical reaction take care of the dirty work.” 

Food waste is much less recalcitrant than lignin, the reason that David Stewart, president of Citrus Energy LLC, said he’s moving in that direction. The cost of enzymes to break down the fruit waste is 30 cents a gallon compared to $1 a gallon for corn stover. Focusing on the C6 sugars and standard yeast, he said Citrus Energy achieves 60 gallons a ton.

Jerry Horton, president of Sweetwater Energy Inc., talked about his company’s SweetMachines, which process high-moisture biomass onsite into a concentrated sugar stream with syrup-like consistency for delivery to a local ethanol processor.

 —Ron Kotrba