Texas company offers ethanol mini-refineries

By Hope Deutscher
Posted May 26, 2009, at 10:46 a.m. CST

From beer and soda makers to fruit growers, Dallas-based Allard Research and Development LLC has designed ethanol production systems that provide "mini-refinery" capabilities to business, municipalities, farms and ranches, as well as commercial markets.

"The machines are really for commercial and industrial use. It's definitely not something for the end user at the home level," said Allan Allard, president of Allard Research and Development, which focuses primarily on ethanol production, automation, hydroponics and aquaponics and the intersection of the systems. "We've had a lot of interest from colleges that want to actually build teaching programs around green fuels in their chemistry departments all the way to municipalities that are interested in generating ethanol for city vehicles and police cars."

Primarily a research and development facility, the company is designing and developing new technologies for small- to medium-scale ethanol production, closed-loop food and fuel production, green alternatives, self-sufficiency, and sustainable systems. Allard Research and Development is offering two families of Ethanol Production Systems a fully automated (EFS) and a manual (MES) process technology. The automated Ethanol Fuel Systems are state-of-the-art mini-refineries that produce ethanol in a compact machine, Allard said. The systems are computer touch-screen-controlled and feature a UNIX-based operating system on the primary automation computer, an Apple Inc. Mac Mini for reliability. Using commercial-grade stainless steel tanks, valves, pipes, fittings, and a stainless steel distillation column, the EFS machines were designed for industrial-type use.

The EFS and MES machines are offered in 100, 200, 500 and 1000 product models that represent output gallons per day capacities. Machines with larger output capacities can be custom engineered and manufactured at the company's Dallas facility. The company financed its own research and development to produce the systems, which were originally designed for companies to use in producing their own fleet fuel.

The production systems are small enough to fit inside a shipping container box. For example, the 200-gallon-per-day system is about 50 square feet, measuring 5 feet wide by 9 feet long and about 9 feet tall. The 200-gallon EFS system costs approximately $70,000, according to Allard.

Allard said there is significant industrial waste, such as soft drink bottlers who must dispose of leftover syrup not used before the expiration date. "Traditionally what they'll do is basically pay people to dispose of it in a landfill. So this is an ideal feedstock because it's basically a sugar-water solution already and so you just ferment it and turn it into ethanol," he adds. The paper industry has a similar slurry, called black liquor, that's a byproduct of making paper and paper products.

Fruit growers, such as apple orchards, could also benefit from such a system, Allard said. There's a fairly large amount of waste in fruit products, for example, apples that have a blemish are left on the tree, some fall on the ground or get bugs in them those wasted fruits could be crushed, fermented and made into ethanol.

"The low hanging fruit literally for us is all of these waste products, because there are a lot of companies that deal with something that can easily be converted," he said.

The company is designing a line of front-end processors that are designed and built for a specific type of feedstock. "If you grow fruits, there's one machine that we're designing a fruit pre-processor that is literally just a big bin on one end that you can dump apples or grapes or whatever you have in there and it crushes it, presses it, extracts the juice and then prepares that for fermentation. The industrial waste type feedstock, like the soft drinks, don't need any prep, they can be fermented as is."

Allard says the company doesn't plan to enter the biorefinery market; rather, they are content being in the middle market. "We're like Apple Computer was in 1978, and what you have in this market today is moonshiners on one end of the spectrum and refineries on the other," he said. "Nobody was in this market size space that we're in under several hundred thousand dollars, maybe a million for the smallest of the available ethanol plants today so we're kind of like Apple was in 1978 where there were hobbyists on one end and IBM mainframes on the other. But we invented the PC of this industry. Where it goes or how it can be used is really only limited by what people can come up with for how they can get feedstocks and what they can do with them."

Allard said the company has received information requests from Australia, New Zealand, Asia Pacific to Europe, Africa, South America and the U.S.