CleanTech acquires biomass company

By Bryan Sims
Web exclusive posted July 24, 2008 at 1:22 p.m. CST

St. Louis, Mo.-based CleanTech Biofuels Inc. has signed an agreement with Biomass North America Licensing Inc. to acquire the company through a merger. With the acquisition, CleanTech Biofuels will have exclusive rights to use the proprietary and patent-pending technology developed by the owners of Biomass North America Licensing, as well as licensed technology for the production of cellulosic biomass from municipal solid waste (MSW) in the United States and Canada.

According to CleanTech Biofuels Chief Executive Officer Ed Hennessey, the technology is expected to first be implemented in a commercial project at a transfer station in Chicago, which will be jointly operated by Biomass North America Licensing and CleanTech Biofuels. The proposed site for the commercial development is owned by a principal shareholder of Biomass North America Licensing.

Biomass North America's technology is currently being operated at a commercial plant in Australia where the cellulosic biomass produced from MSW is being utilized as a soil amendment.

CleanTech initially intends to use the proprietary biomass conversion technology at the Chicago site to produce cellulosic biomass as solid fuel which will be co-fired with coal for electricity production. Initial tests on the feasibility of the project indicated that the British Thermal Unit ( Btu) value was approximately 75 percent that of coal in accordance to a joint test by CleanTech Biofuels and a St. Louis utility company, according to Hennessey. Moreover, the biomass generated by the process has substantially less pollutants in emissions from combustion than coal or other refuse derived fuels tested. Hennessey added that CleanTech Biofuels is assessing the potential of generating internal electricity to power the plant once the project becomes operational.

"We look at the application of biomass co-fired with coal as the low hanging fruit that can be done commercially right now," Hennessey said. "What we're looking to do is develop a plant there [in Chicago] using the biomass as solid fuel to produce electricity with traditional debt and bond financing to fund a significant part of the development costs. When our cellulosic ethanol conversion technology is ready for commercial implementation, we hope to use the infrastructure at the existing plant to add a cellulosic conversion plant to the same site."

Hennessey said the company is in discussions with an undisclosed electric utility to possibly purchase the biomass produced at the proposed site for the project.

"When we get the Chicago location going commercially and we're making biomass and selling it as solid fuel, we can probably lower the cost of the ethanol demonstration plant dramatically by setting it up right there and simply increasing the amount of MSW we process daily," Hennessey said.

The acquisition of Biomass North America's technology complements CleanTech's existing Pressurized Steam Classification (PSC) technology for the production of cellulosic ethanol from MSW. In Golden, Colo., CleanTech is currently developing a demonstration-scale facility to produce ethanol from MSW using its proprietary PSC technology in conjunction with a novel HFTA cellulose conversion reactor supplied by the Forest Products Laboratory at the University of California-Berkeley, as well as other improvements to traditional acid hydrolysis developed by Brelsford Engineering. Hennessey said the project is progressing well and the company is looking to increase the amount of cellulose that it processes so it can extrapolate more data relating to feedstock and process optimization by adding a four ton per day municipal solid waste PSC vessel at its demonstration plant.

Hennessey said data drawn from the Golden cellulosic ethanol project will be assessed to gauge the feasibility of having a similar colocated facility at its Chicago facility. CleanTech is also evaluating other cellulosic ethanol conversion technologies. Hennessey said if they determine that there is a technology currently ready for commercial implementation, they will seek to partner with the owners of that technology to expedite the commercialization of the production of cellulosic ethanol from MSW.

Once its cellulosic ethanol demonstration project ramps up, CleanTech is hopeful that it could produce cellulosic ethanol at or around $1 per gallon, according to Hennessey. However, the production costs could be lower in areas where high tipping fees are paid to dispose of MSW.

"We'll have a much better feel of our cost once we've run our proof-of-concept demonstration plant in Golden," he said.

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