American Science and Technology scale up uses Baisch Engineering

By Katie Fletcher | August 25, 2014

American Science and Technology Corp. is scaling up its Wausau, Wisconsin-based pilot plant to pre-commercialization scale. Baisch Engineering was selected to design the scale up of the biorefinery pilot plant from its current production capacity of 200 pounds of lignocellulosic biomass per day to 2 tons per day. 

“Baisch Engineering is a well-established company with considerable experience in design and building biorefineries, mostly for paper industries,” said Ali Manesh, AST president and CEO. “Baisch Engineering has an experienced team of engineers who will provide the technical expertise that we need to select the right equipment and materials for our current scale-up project.”

AST uses its biorefinery pilot plant facilities to develop a patented Organosolv process to convert lignocellulosic biomass into fermentable C6 sugars, highly refined eatable sugar, pure lignin, high quality pulp and organic solvents. These have been intermediate products for supply chains producing biochemicals, plastics, biofuels and nutritional supplements for food.

During the past five years AST has refined the Organosolv pulping process and provided research and development services to companies. The increasing maturity of the Organosolv technology and the nature of the research and development demand, from proof of concept to economic viability analysis, has required the development of a pre-commercialization plant, according to Manesh.

The Organosolv process licensed and used by AST was originally developed and patented by two scientists at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, where the Cellulose Pilot and Processing Laboratory resides. AST’s pilot plant is an essential part of the CPPL, which includes facilities for biomass characterization and analysis, a biotechnology lab and a fermentation scale-up facility aimed at creating next generation biorefinery technologies. “Over the years, by using its laboratory and pilot plant, AST has gained invaluable knowledge and improved the process further, resulting in several patent pending applications of its own,” Manesh said.

Manesh adds that a spinoff company entitled Refined Bioproducts LLC was created by members of the research group to explore the marketing and value chain of the products from these patented processes. RBP is currently negotiating with AST to market their fractionation products.

The Organosolv process, as defined by its patents, uses butanol as an organic solvent to dissolve and remove lignin from lignocellulosic materials and produce pulp that can either be used as commercial pulp for paper products or can be hydrolyzed to sugar for fermentation to products like biofuels or biochemicals. The process also produces various organic materials, such as esters, furans and ethers, which can be separated and sold as byproducts or used as organic solvents.

The lignocellulosic materials currently studied at AST include softwood, hardwood, bark and straws from various plants, such as corn, sweet sorghum and wheat, among a few others. The feedstocks supplying the biorefinery are provided by AST customers or purchased from local producers in the form of woodchips, forestry wastes or agricultural wastes. In the long term the company hopes to source available biomass within a 100 mile radius of the biorefinery.

The pre-commercialization scale up is the next step forward in AST’s goal of building a large-scale biorefinery production plant. AST has been looking to build a team to assist in this effort.

The company has teamed up with  Jim Lunt as a technology deployment advisor, Central Wisconsin Engineering as a construction team member and now Baisch Engineering as a design consultant partner. “AST will continue its effort to find and team up with other groups to build the dream team capable of building a large-scale biorefinery,” Manesh said.       

Currently UWSP and AST have allocated collectively about $2 million for the equipment to build the new pre-commercialization scale plant. Financial assistance to the plant was awarded to AST and UWSP for approximately $2.8 million in November 2013, as part of a $22.5 million initiative by the University of Wisconsin System institutions. The new pilot plant is scheduled to come on line in late 2015.