Fiberight to produce MSW-based ethanol

By Craig A. Johnson | January 04, 2010
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Fiberight LLC recently purchased the former Xethanol LLC ethanol production facility in Blairstown, Iowa, with plans to produce cellulosic ethanol at a demonstration scale. The plant was acquired for $1.65 million and Fiberight is in the process of converting it to handle municipal solid waste (MSW). Once completed, this would be one of the first facilities in the U.S. to use MSW as a feedstock for ethanol production.

"We've been operating in stealth mode because we don't want to make claims until we can prove them," CEO Craig Stuart-Paul said. He told EPM that the technology is now at the point where it can be scaled up to a commercial scale and Fiberight plans to demonstrate that in Blairstown.

Fiberight's plan to quietly develop its technology has taken the company most of the past three years. Its process, enhanced fiber separation technology, is designed to run in a "mini mill." Fiberight's production model involves building numerous plants adjacent to cities with populations greater than 100,000. Each plant would produce around 10 MMgy of ethanol from locally-derived MSW, a plan the company believes creates a platform for around 450 production plants.

"Our plans will make sense to communities consisting of about 150,000 people within a 25-mile radius, of which there over 400 in this country," Stuart-Paul said. Fiberight intends to construct the mini-mills at a cost of $30 million to $50 million.

Fiberight's unique process begins with the fractionation and homogenization of the MSW, creating a uniform feedstock for the plant. This step is seen as a major hurdle as other proposed MSW processes have not been able to achieve uniformity of the feedstock.

Next, Fiberight has developed a proprietary process for reusing its enzymes. Capturing the recycled enzymes lowers the cost of production and helps Fiberight achieve economies of scale that allow the company to produce ethanol from MSW profitably and with less risk.

Plastics, a common hazard in dealing with MSW, are separated from the waste stream in the company's multi-stage process. Removing and subsequently depolymerizing the 10 percent plastic in the waste stream to create synthetic oil allows the company to power the entire facility without the need for fossil fuels.

The remaining pulp will consist of approximately 65 percent cellulose and 20 percent hemicellulose, with the remainder being ash and other unusables. Stuart-Paul plans to convert the cellulose to ethanol and the hemicellulose to biochemicals, which can be used in the plastics industry. The company chose to diversify in this manner because, according to Stuart-Paul, biochemical products from C5 sugars is currently a more economical, financially secure conversion solution for hemicellulose than ethanol production.

Fiberight opened a 50,000-square-foot plant in Lawrenceville, Va., in February to prove its proprietary process for converting MSW into ethanol. The Virginia plant also demonstrates the successful commercialization of its waste extraction processes.