July 14, 2010 – Vol.15 No.17
THE “NEW ETHANOL” CLEANS UP COAL.
by Bruce Mulliken, Green Energy News
Coal-fired power plants aren’t going to be shuttered any time soon. That’s the sorry truth. And, it will be a long time before all coal carbon emissions are stuffed underground, sequestered for future generations to deal with.
For now, and into the foreseeable future, some kind of exhaust-making liquid fuel will be needed to feed combustion engines. A zero-emission all-electric world is far away.
But maybe coal and liquid fuels can unite somehow for the betterment of both.
In Kalundborg, Denmark, Inbicon, a developer of biomass refineries, has announced the start-up of its first “Inbicon Biomass Refinery” that turns wheat straw into cellulosic ethanol, or as Inbicon calls it, “The New Ethanol.” The plant will make 1.4 million gallons per year, making the company the largest producer of cellulosic ethanol in the world.
That announcement, in itself, is interesting enough since cellulosic ethanol is not yet widely produced. But the story doesn’t end there.
Making ethanol is an energy intensive process, using some form of fossil fuel for heat as well as electricity (also possibly from a fossil fuel) to turn feedstock into fuel. The Inbicon process is self-sustaining, however. Waste dry solids, the lignin of the wheat straw, is used as a fuel for the refinery to provide both heat and electricity. The company says a variety of feedstocks can be used in the refinery: straw, corn stalks and cobs, sugar bagasse, and grasses.
Lignin, part of the cell walls of plants, is actually a more potent fuel than the cellulosic ethanol itself. Lignin has an energy content similar to coal with an energy density of 6.67 kilowatt-hours per kilogram.
The Kalundborg refinery operating by itself is a zero fossil fuel facility. Yet the company has plans to tie its green operation to one not so green. Soon the Kalundborg cellulosic ethanol refinery will be powered with waste steam from the Asnaes Power Station, Denmark's largest. Further, the lignin will be fed into that coal plant to carbon-neutralize at least a portion of that facility’s exhaust. The mix of using waste steam to make a fuel from carbon neutral feedstock and using waste lignin as fuel in the power plant helps cut the overall carbon footprint of the Asnaes, as well as adding the power plants usefulness: it makes electricity AND fuel.
"We're producing not only The New Ethanol to replace gasoline but also a clean lignin biofuel to replace coal," says Inbicon CEO Niels Henriksen. "But our renewable energy process is as important as our renewable energy products. The Inbicon Biomass Refinery can demonstrate dramatically improved efficiencies when integrated with a coal-fired power station, grain-ethanol plant, or any CHP (combined heat and power) operation. Symbiotic energy exchange helps our customers build sustainable, carbon-neutral businesses."
Inbicon hasn’t announced the potential carbon-footprint reducing qualities of connecting Asnaes with the biorefinery, but it does say that utilizing the waste steam of the power plant increases the refinery's total energy efficiency to 71%.
Reducing coal power plants’ carbon footprint by making them more energy efficient – making electricity and a renewable, carbon neutral fuel – may not be a complete solution to reducing coal’s carbon emissions. However, it would be a relatively easy start since additional revenue is produced from the sale of cellulosic ethanol. Like everyone, coal plant operators would be glad to accept new revenues.
The thought of connecting New Ethanol production with electricity production is not lost on coal plant operators. Three power generating companies in the US are considering integrating Inbicon’s refineries with coal plants. Each plant will produce 20 million gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol.
Others are finding clever uses for the Inbicon refinery.
Genesee Regional BioFuels is considering a biomass business complex near Rochester, New York. The company plans to convert an old brown site to a refinery that converts agricultural waste to the New Ethanol and use the waste lignin to offset coal used in existing power stations.
Integro Services Group is planning a new 59 million gallon per year corn-to-ethanol plant in Alton, Illinois that will be integrated with a 20 million gallon per year Inbicon Biomass Refinery. That lignin will be used to fuel both plants, making the conventional and cellulosic ethanol plants fossil fuel free.
Inbicon is also working with Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding on refineries in Asia.
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