Trash-to-ethanol projects progress

By Anna Austin | January 03, 2009
Using municipal solid waste (MSW) as a feedstock for ethanol production continues to be a viable option, particularly for two recent projectsone domestic and the other international.

St. Louis-based CleanTech Biofuels Inc. announced the successful testing of process technology developed at the University of California, Berkeley that will use nitric acid, rather than sulfuric or hydrochloric acid, to hydrolyze cellulosic material for the production of ethanol and other fuels from biomass filtered from MSW. It was the first milestone in
CleanTech's mission to validate and commercialize the waste-to-ethanol technology that it purchased from the university under an exclusive worldwide sublicense agreement. Under the agreement, CleanTech is required to make payments to HFTA Inc., a company formed by the developers of the technology, when certain development milestones regarding validation and commercialization are met. "The core of this technology is that we take garbage from the curbside and separate it into component parts to develop a homogenous, cellulosic feedstock that looks much like a mulch. We already know this can be mixed with coal and burned at a power plant."

Kime said now that the first round of testing is complete, the technology will be demonstrated at a pilot plant, likely in rural Illinois. "There is already a built-in infrastructure for delivering and collecting garbage, and we are expanding the size and scope of the demonstration plant that we had initially conceived," he told EPM. The facility is expected to process approximately 40 to 50 tons of local MSW, wood and agricultural waste per day. According to Kime, CleanTech is hoping to partner on this project with the University of Illinois, which is developing experimental crops such as miscanthus, and the USDA.

"We think one of the principle problems with the development of the cellulosic ethanol industry is the lack of an infrastructure to collect and hold the biomass," Kime said. "We believe our technology for processing MSW can provide a backbone for this. We are proving that biomass can be profitably turned with our technologiesor others that present themselvesinto cellulosic ethanol or biofuels."

He added that CleanTech hopes to complete the pilot plant by the end of 2009.

The company also recently completed a merger with Biomass North America Licensing Inc., now its wholly owned subsidiary, to obtain the exclusive rights to use a proprietary technology that produces a solid-fuel cellulosic biomass filtered from municipal solid waste. CleanTech is currently implementing the technology at a commercial waste transfer station in Chicago and plans to market the solid-fuel biomass to companies for multiple purposes, including electricity production in existing coal-fired power plants.

In a similar project across the Atlantic Ocean, Westerman, England-based Reclaim Resources Ltd. secured a $21 million contract with Philippine province Zambales to supply and install its MSW-to-ethanol technology and system north of Manila. The facility is expected to process approximately 150,000 metric tons of MSW into 8 MMgy of ethanol, and possibly be expanded to 300,000 metric tons and 16 MMgy. Construction of the facility is slated to begin in 2009, followed by start-up by the end of the year.