A Long Time Coming

Norwegian developer brings cellulosic pilot plant online
By Kris Bevill | December 27, 2010
It only took 20 years and 1,000 experiments. In 1987, Karl Weydahl and Knut Helland, co-founders of Norway-based Weyland BioEthanol A/S, began collaborating with Bergen University to develop a process to convert cellulose to ethanol. In October, the company opened the doors at its 200,000 liter (approximately 53,000 gallon) facility in Bergen, Norway, and has plans to scale up to a commercial facility after its process proves efficient at the pilot-scale. "Weyland aims to become an international supplier of technology for production of bioethanol from cellulosic feedstocks," says Weyland CEO Petter Bartz-Johannessen. "The pilot plant will allow us to demonstrate the technology's suitability for full-scale production." The technology that was so long in the making is based on concentrated acid hydrolysis. At the core is a patent-pending acid recovery method that recovers approximately 98.5 percent of the acids and solvents used in the process and produces high yields of ethanol-approximately 1 liter of ethanol for every 8 pounds of feedstock. The company has verified its process with multiple cellulosic feedstocks, including sugarcane bagasse, corn stover, rice straw, hardwoods, softwoods, wood wastes and paper wastes. Weyland believes its process will make it an international leader of cellulosic ethanol technology. "Our dream scenario is to achieve this in Norway, enabling Norway to contribute to the production of renewable energy and the creation of green jobs," Bartz-Johannessen says. "However, this requires both political determination and drive." It also requires capital. Norway-based Statoil, which is one of the world's largest oil and gas production companies, began investing in the company in 2009. Statoil is invested in several ethanol-related technologies, including California-based Bio Architecture Lab Inc., which is developing a consolidated bioprocessing technology to convert seaweed to ethanol. Statoil is also partnered with DONG Energy and Royal DSM for the Kalundborg Cellulosic Ethanol Project, using Inbicon A/S' agricultural waste-to-ethanol technology. One hundred Statoil retail stations in Denmark are currently selling Bio95 2G, an E5 blend of Inbicon's second-generation ethanol.