TMO Renewables introduces U.K. pilot plant

By Suzanne Schmidt | July 08, 2008
Web exclusive posted July 11, 2008 at 3:35 p.m. CST

TMO Renewables Ltd., headquartered in the United Kingdom, recently introduced a pilot ethanol fermentation plant. The plant is currently operating near Surry, England.

"The aim of the plant is to prove the core efficacy of the ethanol fermentation process using TMO's unique thermophilic bacteria," said Monique Tsang, media contact for TMO. The Process Demonstration Unit (PDU) does not show the distillation process, according to TMO Renewables CEO Hamish Curran, "because it is a well established technology." Curran added, "we do have some ideas though that can radically impact the back end of the ethanol process."

TMO Renewable's PDU, which the company claims is the first of its kind in the U.K., is unique from the traditional approach for several reasons. The unit uses organisms that can operate under very high temperatures. "The reaction takes place around 60 to 70 degrees centigrade (140 to 158 degrees Fahrenheit)," Curran said. Traditionally, cellulosic ethanol is produced through an energy taxing heating and cooling process. Also in many ethanol processes, complex sugar must be reduced to simple sugars, such as glucose. The traditional process also requires several days for proper fermentation.

The thermophilic bacteria assimilate various types of feedstocks despite an increase in heat. The organism helps reduce the costs and time intensity of the ethanol production process. "The reason why the organism is particularly useful is that is has a very broad appetite," Curran said. The organism was actually chosen from a compost heap because those types of organisms are used to eat complex biomass materials instead of simple sugars. TMO Renewables searched for this special organism and then worked on its molecular biology, "to eliminate its ability to make other byproducts." Curran said. In the wild form the thermophilic bacteria has many byproducts. The engineered organism is called TM242. It took nearly four years to, "train the organism to no longer make less useful products, like lactic acid, and only to have the by-product ethanol which resulted from their life cycle," Curran said.