Feedstock Solution

Automated grass-grow system offered with modular ethanol refineries
By Holly Jessen | July 22, 2011

Previously, Allard Research and Development LLC sold its small- to medium-scale ethanol refineries to customers that had a ready source of a cellulose, starch or sugar feedstock. That might include waste items such as grass clippings, sawdust, newspapers, waste fruit or waste soda.

Although those and other feedstocks are still options, Allard Research now has something for customers that don’t have a specific feedstock identified. Simply purchase the company’s cellulose grass-grow system, which includes four hydroponic shipping containers that will produce 15 tons of grass per day. The patent-pending system runs fully automated—drop the seeds in the hopper on one end and feedstock comes out the other end, where it is fed into the ethanol refinery, says Sharon Allard, CEO of the Farmersville, Texas-based company. On the way out the feedstock is ground and hydrolyzed with heat, pressure and a weak sulfuric acid solution.
“The ability to grow the cellulose feedstock as part of the system is a game-changer,” says Adam Allard, founder and chairman.  “Historically, the big limiting factor for people wanting to make their own ethanol fuel has been a lack of abundant feedstock. Now it comes with the system.” He adds that it also makes moot the food vs. fuel argument.

The systems are designed to be small and movable. A 20-gallon per hour ethanol plant, including the grass-grow system, takes up about 3,600 square feet. The modular system can be scaled up by adding additional units. At 200 gallons per hour, the ethanol plant would produce 1.75 MMgy, cost $5 million and generate $3.5 million yearly in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization cash flow, the company says. Although there’s no limit on the number of modules that can be networked, the company figures the optimal plant size for one location at 200 to 500 gallons per hour of ethanol output, Sharon Allard tells EPM.

The refineries use waste heat from the engine for distillation, creating enough electricity to power the plant. The engine is fueled by gasified waste from the cellulose conversion process. Water is also recycled back into the system.

By the end of the summer, Allard Research hopes to have systems installed with clients for beta testing. The company plans to sell the refineries to clients as well as operate the systems themselves. “What better way to demonstrate our products than operating our own commercial-scale refineries,” Sharon Allard says. “We can better serve the clients we sell ethanol systems to if we are also in the business. The demand is so high that there are no worries about competition with our customers.”

—Holly Jessen