ECN invention reduces cost of biofuel

Thursday April 16, 2015 07:59

Research institute looking for companies to help improve and implement new technology

The Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN) has developed a new technology that could save 10 to 15 cents per liter on the production of sustainable biofuels from biomass. The research institute wants to cooperate with international bio-refineries and pilot plants in order to further develop the patented technology and implement it on an industrial scale.

The new method is called Cellulase Saver. “This innovation has brought affordable, second generation biofuels another step closer. “Eventually, these biofuels should be able to compete economically with fossil fuels,” researchers Arjan Smit and Wouter Huijgen of ECN say.

First generation bioethanol is currently blended with the regular petrol that is sold in petrol stations (up to 5% bioethanol is added). This biofuel is produced from edible biomass, such as maize cobs, and is considered a less sustainable biofuel because it uses up agricultural land and competes with crops for food production. 

Second generation biofuels are made from the inedible parts of biomass, in particular from forestry and agricultural residues such as maize stalks, wheat straw, or bagasse (a by-product of sugar cane). These fuels result in less CO2 emissions than first generation biofuels and do not compete with food resources.

“However, these second generation biofuels are technically more complicated and more expensive to produce. This means they are currently not economically viable without the support of grants. But still, the International Energy Agency has calculated that by 2018 more than nine billion liters of second generation biofuels will have been produced worldwide.”

The production of biofuels involves the extraction of cellulose from fibrous crops like straw and other agricultural residues. Enzymes are then added (cellulase) to break down the cellulose into sugars which are then fermented into ethanol, for example. But these enzymes are a major cost factor in this process.

By adding an additional processing stage involving washing the biomass with water and then filtering it, ECN has succeeded in extracting proteins which are then reintroduced later in the process. These proteins improve the effect of the enzymes, which saves 10 to 15 cents per liter of biofuel. “We do not know how much the costs of these enzymes will decrease, but I estimate that the Cellulase Saver has a savings potential of hundreds of millions of euros worldwide,” says Sjoerd Wittkampf, who is responsible for commercializing the technology.

ECN is looking for industrial parties to implement the method. “We want a commercial partner to demonstrate the technology in order to further reduce the cost price of this biofuel,” explain Smit and Huijgen. “We also want to test the Cellulase Saver on other biofuel production technologies so that we can use this innovation in a wider range of applications.”

More information

For more information please refer to the Cellulase Saver Technology Offer or contact Sjoerd Wittkampf, Technology Transfer Manager at ECN. If you like to find out more about our other technologies then please visit technology transfer.

Category: Corporate, Biomass, Technology transfer