Advanced Biofuels & Other Bio-Based Chemicals

Outdoor view of GET centre pretreatment pilot plant
Small scale twin screw extruder
Corn oil flowing out of a valve
Pretreated biomass

Greenfield’s Cellulosic Ethanol Division

We are broadening both Canadian and International markets’ fuel and chemicals choices by developing commercially sustainable methods to biochemically produce next generation biofuels and bio-based chemicals from lignocellulosic biomass including agricultural residues, energy crops and forestry.

Since establishing our Cellulosic Ethanol Division in 2007, we have been actively engaged in the development and commercialization of a superior advanced process and equipment technologies to convert non-traditional, lignocellulosic biomass to advanced biofuels (i.e. cellulosic ethanol) and to generate a clean sugar substrate to produce other bio-based chemicals.

This research and development activity has been conducted at our Centre of Excellence research facility located in Chatham, Ontario.

What is Cellulosic Ethanol?

This clean-burning, fully biodegradable, renewable “advanced biofuel” can be created from a variety of feedstocks that would otherwise be disposed of as waste residues. The key ingredient is cellulose, a fibrous material that makes up most of the plant matter in biomass such as corn cobs, corn stover, wood chips, trees, and pulp and paper industry wastes. Also of significance is the smaller but sugar-rich hemicellulose fraction of these feedstocks.

As well as reducing harmful emissions from vehicles, cellulosic ethanol enhances the many environmental, societal and economic benefits of traditional ethanol. Importantly, cellulosic ethanol produces as much as eight times more energy than it consumes.

What are Bio-Based Chemicals?

Because there is a finite amount of oil which is becoming more complex and costly to extract, there is a global need for innovative and sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based chemicals, resins and plastics.

Additional benefits of Bio-Based Chemicals include displacing chemicals, plastics and other products made from petroleum with ones derived from renewable sources, such as lignocellulosic biomass, and reducing greenhouse gasses.

Other Environmental, Socioeconomic Benefits

Other benefits of Cellulosic Ethanol and other Advanced Biofuels that are made from cellulosic biomass include:

  • New Opportunities for Farmers and Bio-based Producers – The production of cellulosic ethanol from agricultural and forestry wastes, such as corn fibers (cobs and stover), will provide a new market for farmers, the forestry industry and for the growing cellulosic ethanol and bio-chemical industries.
  • Optimized Resources – Forestry waste is often left to rot, releasing methane, a harmful greenhouse gas. Cellulosic ethanol production would harness untapped forestry resources and lower greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Requiring minimal amounts of water. Depending on the feedstock, the production process can be a net producer of water.
  • Encouraging the cultivation of bioenergy crops that provide a better environment for wildlife. Their extensive root systems increase nutrient capture, improve soil quality, sequester carbon, and reduce erosion.
Field of sorghum, GreenField "Energy crop test plots"
Stripped corn cobs
wood chips
Field of switch grass

The Pretreatment Challenge: Maximizing Sugar Recovery

Pretreatment is the 1st and most critical process step to producing cellulosic ethanol and is the key to unlocking and recovering cellulosic sugars in a commercially sustainable way.

Graphic depicting the 3 building blocks of lignocellulosic biomass: C5, C6, Lignin

Breaking down the barriers to recover the sugars from lignocellulosic biomass is much more challenging than from corn because of the complex matrix of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin in the cellulosic biomass.

Lignocellulosic biomass contains 2 types of sugars (hexoses ‘C6’ and pentoses ‘C5’ sugars) whereas corn contains only 1 sugar (hexose ‘C6’ (starch)).

Pie chart depicting C5 Hemicellulose (25%-35%), C6 Cellulose (40%-50%), Lignin (15%-20%).

Therefore, a best-in-class pretreatment process is one which is capable of recovering the most ‘C6’ and ‘C5’ sugars, in their cleanest inhibitor-free form, to achieve the best downstream results in hydrolysis and fermentation, which in turn, will generate the highest yields of cellulosic ethanol or bio-based chemical.

Various cellulosic biomasses, each in its own labeled bottle. From left to right: corn stover, triticale, poplar, sorghum, miscanthus, wheat straw, prairie grass.
Cellulose and hemicellulose in separate labelled bottles

Examples of various cellulosic biomasses and the resulting separated ‘C6’ and ‘C5’ sugars obtained utilizing Greenfield’s proprietary Pretreatment System

WE HAVE THE PRETREATMENT TECHNOLOGY SOLUTION

Greenfield’s ‘Best-In-Class’ Pretreatment Technology Solution

3D rendering of GreenField’s biomass-agnostic ‘Gen 2’ pre-treatment solution with a zoomed in portion on filter #1 block extruder #2 producing C5 sugars. System progression is as follows: steaming bin; extruder block #1; reactor #1; extruder block #2; reactor #2

Innovation

We have developed superior continuous pretreatment equipment and process technologies using a highly modified twin-screw extruder to recover the highest percentage of discrete, clean streams of ‘C5’ and ‘C6’ sugars from a wide range of renewable and sustainable biomass feedstocks. Our proprietary Pretreatment System is the first key step to the commercially viable production of cellulosic ethanol and other bio-based chemicals.

Pilot twin screw extruder

Unique Approach

Most of the current methods for pretreating cellulosic biomass call for the use of harsh chemicals (i.e. acids or bases) which produce inhibitors and reduce the purity of the downstream yields. In contrast, our pretreatment process and equipment technologies generate the purest ‘C5’ and ‘C6’ sugars, leading to the highest downstream yields, in a technically-efficient and cost-effective way, without harsh chemicals. The extracted high yield ‘C5’ and ‘C6’ sugars can be fermented into cellulosic ethanol, other advanced biofuels or other bio-based chemicals and bio-products.

Outdoor view of GreenField's pilot plant

Proprietary Equipment and Process Technologies

Central to our proprietary Pretreatment System is our “Modified Twin-Screw Extruder” equipment that incorporates novel filter plates. Our equipment has been demonstrated to be a technically-efficient solid-liquid separation, washing and dewatering device.

2014-2015 Commercialization Plan

We are in the final stages of pre-commercial development and plan to commercialize our Pretreatment System by early 2015. In 2013 we incorporated the Modified Twin-Screw Extruder equipment technology into our Continuous Pilot Plant located at our Centre of Excellence and demonstrated the proof of concept of our Pretreatment System. We then operated and optimized the process and equipment technologies and our performance criteria for more than a year.

Close up of the filtering portion in our Modified Twin-Screw Extruder
Other benefits include:

  • Renewable Flexible Feedstocks – Our Pretreatment System is “biomass agnostic” and is able to produce ‘C5’ and ‘C6’ sugars from a diverse variety of sustainable biomass feedstocks.
  • Flexible, Scalable System We can fabricate our Pretreatment System and integrate it as the front-end of a host end-to-end cellulosic process to provide best-in-class pretreatment capability.
  • Commercially Sustainable – Our Pretreatment System is both technically efficient and cost effective (i.e. OPEX and CAPEX) when compared to more complex equipment trains.
3D rendering of complete pretreatment system (demo)
We are currently engaged in the final pre-commercial step through the fabrication and deployment of a larger capacity, mobile (skid-mounted), Demo-Scale Pretreatment System with a rated capacity of ~ 5 metric tonnes of biomass per day. We expect the system to be operational in Fall 2014. The Commercial Pretreatment System will have a flexible capacity to process between 250 and 1,000 metric tonnes of biomass per day.

Intellectual Property

We are committed to protect our proprietary pretreatment process and equipment technologies and are pursuing such protections worldwide, in multiple jurisdictions.

Collaboration & Development Opportunities

For collaboration and development opportunities, or for more information, please contact: Barry Wortzman, Q.C. V.P., Business Development Greenfield Global +1 (416) 304-1700 x 8420 Barry.Wortzman@Greenfield.com