CELLULOSIC ethanol production is a big part of plans for the continued expansion of the U.S. renewable fuel industry.
While production has not yet hit levels mandated in the federal renewable fuel standard, biorefining technology developer ICM said its pilot plant in St. Joseph, Mo., has crossed the significant milestone of 1,000 hours of continuous production.
The 1,000-hour mark is an important achievement because it qualifies the company's data for consideration as firms employing ICM technologies work to obtain federal loan guarantees in financing advanced renewable fuel projects.
ICM's Generation 1.5 Integrated Fiber to Cellulosic Ethanol Technology offers clients an operating and capital expense savings compared to traditional cellulosic approaches. The company said its pilot project is the largest-scale fermentation integration of grain fiber to cellulosic ethanol to date.
An ICM spokesman said integrating fiber to create cellulosic ethanol is a "big deal" because it shows considerable progress in developing cellulosic production at existing grain ethanol facilities.
In its test of the technology, ICM sequentially operated 2 doz. 15,000 gal. pilot fermenters and five 585,000 gal. reactors. The test run also demonstrated the concentration of protein and fat levels in the resulting dried distillers grains produced in the integrated fiber-to-ethanol process.
"Corn fiber yields greater than 100 gal. per ton were performed up to the 585,000 gal. fermentation scale, with all inputs -- enzymes, chemicals, organisms -- utilized at an economically feasible range," the company said in a statement.
ICM said the conversion technology is ready for use in processing corn stover and fiber, wheat and barley fiber, switchgrass, sorghum and bagasse.
The Generation 1.5 technology could boost yields of existing ethanol plants by processing cellulose fiber. ICM said its testing indicates the potential for an additional 7-10% increase in yield per bushel -- roughly a 3.1 gal./bu. equivalent. Also, the company said the yield achieved at a laboratory scale was replicated successfully at the pilot-scale test run.
Chief executive officer Dave Vander Griend said the success of ICM's 1,000-hour pilot-scale test validates the ability to add ethanol yield efficiently in existing U.S. ethanol facilities.
The fermentation yields reported were greater than 90%, and the test showed a "pathway to Generation 2," which is the ability to produce clarified starch and cellulosic sugars for ethanol production and other alternative chemicals. Conversion rates exceeded 90% for C6 sugars and 80% for C5 sugars.
For livestock feeders, ICM said the new technology offers dried distillers grains with a substantially higher oil level and protein concentration.
Meanwhile, the company said the same quantity of ethanol can be produced using 10% fewer bushels; that means using 5 billion bu. of corn could produce an additional 1.4 billion gal. of ethanol than current yields.
"Over the course of the past eight weeks, ICM has demonstrated that its proprietary integrated fiber process design capably and efficiently produces fuel ethanol from cellulosic material as a bolt-on technology to a Generation 1 plant," the company said. "It also reinforced the significance of (creating incentives) for greenhouse gas reduction per gallon of ethanol, a more efficient use of Generation 1 feedstocks and enabling a progression to Generation 2 production capabilities."