Fiberight to construct waste-to-energy mini mills

By Anna Austin
Virginia-based waste fiber-to-fuel company Fiberight has worked quietly for the past three years, but may soon make a splash in the biofuel industry.

The company has been developing technology that sorts and transforms municipal solid waste (MSW) into cellulosic fibers, which are extracted into biofuel through an energy recovery system. The process chemicals and enzymes used for conversion of cellulosic fibers are recycled, and the transformational system divides organic and inorganic wastes and converts them according to type.

"We have a team that comes largely from the waste management recycling industries and biofuel engineering industries, and we've really taken the approach that we believe there is an existing infrastructure in waste management," said Fiberight CEO Craig Stuart-Paul. "In other words, a collection infrastructure we can intercept."

"Fundamentally, there is more energy in the waste stream than there is in lignocellulosic streams that is easier, if you get things right, to extract," Stuart-Paul said. "We take a series of waste streams of industrial scrap through commercial dry waste-such as office building waste and MSW-and we separate and sequester the organic and inorganic fractions. Then in all of the inorganic fractions, we separate the hydrocarbons and the recyclables and the stuff we send off to landfills. The organic fractions we convert to cellulosic ethanol."

Last year, Fiberight leased a closed corn ethanol plant in Iowa and ran the organic fraction all the way to finished fuel, Stuart-Paul said. "We have filed for permits and a [U.S.] DOE grant, and will be constructing our own commercial-scale plant in the Baltimore-Washington D.C., area, which we should be breaking ground for next year," he said. The company is also working with Green Star Products on some plastic-to-fuel technologies, he added.

Recently, Fiberight announced it had formed a research agreement with MSW-to-energy technology company CleanTech Biofuels Inc. to determine yields and operating costs from using biomass produced by CleanTech to generate ethanol using Fiberight's biofuel production process.

Preliminary tests have showed yields of in excess of 80 gallons of ethanol per ton of biomass, according to Stuart-Paul. "We just completed a run of 2,000 pounds of material through Cleantech, which is the largest sample we've been able to get from anyone in this area. It worked pretty well for us," he said. The yield per ton varies, however. "We are running between 70 and 90 gallons per ton-90 is super-clean material; 70 if there is more hemicellulose around. That's the issue with MSW; it does vary somewhat," he said.

Stuart-Paul said Fiberight is also developing its own process to recycle enzymes, and has been working with Novozymes, Genencor and Zymetis Corp.

According to Stuart-Paul, the hardest waste stream to deal with is what he dubbed "black bag MSW" or trash bags from residential collection. "For us to deal with that, we need to have a further pretreatment," he said. "We've been working with several suppliers of autoclave-type technology including several from Europe. Cleantech seemed to have a good knowledge in this."

Fiberight has also completed a 50,000-square-foot testing facility in Virginia. "Our process sequesters the different waste types, and hydrocarbons are turned into electricity and heat for the plant. It requires zero input-we're not taking any natural gas or electricity off the grid to make fuel. Additionally, we make byproducts, which make it different from other waste-to-energy plants that burn trash. We don't burn anything, and don't require expensive scrubbing. Using our processes, there is enough energy from the hydrocarbon fraction, namely plastics, to not only provide enough power for our own plant, but to net export too."

The maximum size of Fiberight's plants will be 10 MMgy, Stuart-Paul said. "Our plants are designed to produce 7 MMgy to 10 MMgy, which we call mini mills. There isn't a need for large cities and huge amounts of waste to make the whole thing viable, we'll look for communities of around 100,000 people, which there are approximately 450 of in the U.S."

Stuart-Paul said plants will be sited within a 25-mile radius of communities, where sufficient volumes of MSW can be accessed. "It is a much better value proposition to some of these communities than to a large city with its own landfill-in a community without a local landfill, generally waste is being transported out of state. That's true for New Jersey, and a lot of Maryland. What we can do is provide a local solution for waste disposal instead of dumping it into the ground or burning it-the waste stream after the recycling stream has been pulled out."

Fiberight expects the fully-loaded cost, including the appreciation, the power sold back to the community, with a strong-value proposition tip fee, to be approximately $1.25 per gallon of ethanol at full capacity commercial scale. "We should realize that some time in 2011 if all goes well," Stuart-Paul said.

-Anna Austin