Spanish manufacturer offers cellulosic ethanol equipment solution

By Kris Bevill | July 08, 2009
Report posted July 30, 2009 at 2:36 p.m. CST

As with most things worthwhile, the most difficult aspect of producing cellulosic ethanol is the first part. Researchers and future producers have been working feverishly to determine the most efficient methods of breaking down cellulosic materials to make them suitable for producing ethanol, and have had a multitude of results. One of the issues is finding economically-viable equipment capable of breaking down biomass for ethanol production without damaging it.

According to HRS Spiratube SL, an international manufacturer of heat exchangers, it has developed a piece of equipment capable to doing exactly that. The company claims its heat exchange equipment can be used to produce cellulosic ethanol for less money, using any type of feedstock.

Arnold Kleijn, sales manager for HRS Heat Exchangers, based in Murcia, Spain, said the company initially developed its scraped surface heat exchanger for a research facility in Germany. At the time, HRS knew that it needed to develop a piece of equipment capable of heating and transferring biomass, but didn't know what exact application it would be used for. After the project was complete, HRS learned its equipment was being utilized at the facility to produce biogas. It was determined that, with a few alterations, that same equipment could be used for the production of ethanol. But they needed to be sure.

"We are not ethanol producers, we are not people that know about enzymes, we know about thermal processing and pretreatment," Kleijn said. Therefore, the company partnered with nearby Cartagena University researchers to explore the use of its equipment to produce ethanol. A biotechnological processes research team tested various types of citrus waste and found that, by using the company's heat exchange equipment during the thermal hydrolysis process, ethanol could be produced with a reduced amount of enzymes at a continuous rate. Also, because the heat exchangers are self-scraping, there was no need for downtime to remove fouling from the equipment.

According to HRS, Cartagena researchers are currently preparing a scientific publication to release the study results and a demonstration-scale citrus waste-to-ethanol facility has been proposed for the Murcia region in Spain. Kleijn said the research team will also soon test HRS' equipment with other feedstocks, including weeds and stover.