Lignol phases out demo project, pursues commercial opportunities

By Bryan Sims | July 20, 2011

Lignol Innovations Inc., a subsidiary of Vancouver-based Lignol Energy Corp., has reached an agreement with the U.S. DOE’s Biomass Program to discontinue work of a proposed 2.5 MMgy cellulosic ethanol demonstration-scale project in Grand Junction, Colo., using wood waste and agricultural residue as feedstock. The discontinuation of the project includes the phase-out of a funding award Lignol was originally selected to receive in January 2008 under the DOE’s “Demonstration of Integrated Biorefinery Operations for Producing Biofuels and Chemicals/Materials Products” announcement that would have helped finance the development of the project.

According to Lignol President and CEO Ross MacLachlan, Lignol will pursue development of a commercial project without the assistance of a funding award from the DOE. The revamped project design for Lignol’s planned commercial project ambitions are expected to incorporate innovations and design improvements inspired from its 100,000-liter-per-year fully integrated pilot plant located in Burnaby, British Columbia, enabling faster development of its first commercial project. The resulting project concept and plant design for a commercial plant, MacLachlan said, depart substantially from those that the DOE award was originally based on.

“When [the DOE’s FOA] came out in 2007 it was fairly designed for commercial demonstration projects that were going to be one-tenth the size of commercial scale,” MacLachlan told Biorefining Magazine. “There was a very rigid interpretation of what commercial-scale meant and therefore we had to sort of conform to the requirements for that project.”

MacLachlan said plans for the proposed demonstration project ultimately came to a halt in 2009 when his company, like others in the biorefining space, felt the ill effects of a sinking economy. The company, he said, had since refocused and began to modify the scale and configuration of the proposed demonstration-scale project with the goal of developing a profitable, commercial-scale project.

“Our plant in Burnaby is a very sophisticated and well-designed facility that we can leverage the benefits from, which will help us avoid the need from going to a one-tenth scale demo facility to building a commercial plant,” he said, adding the company is in discussions with a number of potential partners in North America for the site of its first commercial biorefinery.

What makes Lignol unique among other pure-play cellulosic ethanol developers, MacLachlan added, is that cellulosic ethanol represents only about 40 percent of its total revenues with the remaining 60 percent coming from a variety of renewable chemicals, such as lignin, lignin-based derivatives and aromatic compounds derived from lignin. In addition lignin and lignin-based products, Lignol has demonstrated trial production runs and testing of furfural, acetic acid and xylose. Preliminary work on levulinic acid is being conducted as well.

Since many of the aforementioned renewable chemicals have established markets, MacLachlan said he’s betting on his company to open up markets for its lignin and lignin-based products coming out of its future commercial biorefinery. Lignol, together with HA International LLC, have conducted successful production trials of a new foundry resin that contains Lignol’s High Performance Lignin, trademarked HP-L.

Production trials of the new foundry resin were conducted in the production of metal castings for ferrous and nonferrous impellors used in a variety of pumping applications. The results met or exceeded customer requirements for performance and reduced smoke and odor at pouring. The new resin formulations displace petrochemicals normally found in resins.

The two companies are now in the process of negotiating terms of a supply agreement to enable HAI to continue shipping the new resin formulation to its customer and HAI will begin to evaluate other formulations within the company’s product line to incorporate HP-L.

“Foundry resin formulations represent a significant global market opportunity for our company,” MacLachlan said. “This trial validates the vision and development work undertaken by HAI and Lignol over the past year to develop ways to displace petrochemicals by incorporating our unique High Performance Lignin.”