Solving Energy Problems with Municipal Solid Waste
Current Uses: Our cellulosic feedstock can be used in many currently available technologies to produce steam, electricity, gas and other forms of power.
Long-term, we believe that the optimal use for our cellulosic feedstock is for the production of biofuels. Our technology is a necessary component for the biofuel industry to develop and meet the goals set by the United States Congress for biofuel production.
CleanTech enables emerging biofuel technologies to lock into long-term feedstock supplies at cost-effective prices, a necessary component for obtaining the financing needed to build plants using these new technologies.
The CleanTech Biomass Recovery Process enables companies to acquire a clean, homogeneous feedstock for energy production at extremely low costs, and in some cases, at no cost. Our technology buffers the biofuel industry against the risk of increases in the costs of its feedstock, and provides a platform for financing the construction of new technologies that is not available with other cellulosic feedstocks.
Propelled by rising fuel costs and federal subsidies, more than 180 ethanol plants were built in recent years, giving corn farmers and biofuel-plant-operators dreams of solving America’s energy problems. But the biofuel industry has awakened to the realities of market economics, environmental concerns and indirect land use calculations that make reliable ethanol profits elusive for those relying on commodity-based feedstocks. Today a number of ethanol plants are being idled, some construction is on hold, and many bankruptcies are being filed.
Volatility in the prices of corn, ethanol and crude oil have led many to believe that corn-based ethanol and similar biofuels produced from commodities will never be the base for a sustainable biofuel industry.
Recognizing this, in 2007 the United States Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act with a goal for biofuel production to jump five-fold to 36 billion gallons by 2022, with only 15 billion gallons coming from corn-based ethanol. Ethanol production capacity from corn and other agricultural products was projected to increase to 13.3 billion gallons per year in 2008, leaving little room for future growth in that industry.
Congress and the leaders of American industry recognize that in order for America to meet its goals for biofuel production it must turn to cellulosic feedstocks. As a result, there are a number of technologies currently in development that enable companies to take the cellulosic part of a plant (the part humans cannot digest) and convert that into liquid transportation fuel. The technologies fall into three broad categories, enzymatic processes (using biological agents), chemical processes (combining heat and acid), and thermo chemical (burning cellulose in oxygen free or limited oxygen environments).
Significant investments are currently being made in various iterations of these technologies. There are currently at least fifty different companies that have constructed pilot or pre-commercial plants demonstrating technologies that convert cellulosic feedstocks into biofuels. The challenges facing this industry are not scientific; the technologies work. The challenges are economic and environmental.
Much like the corn ethanol industry, companies that intend to produce biofuels from cellulosic material are looking for consistent supplies of feedstock at predictable prices. Commercial plants currently under construction are typically using wood and wood waste as the feedstock for production. Companies like Range Fuels have located in Georgia because of the availability of large amounts of this material. However, transportation and processing costs for wood make it an expensive feedstock for biofuel production regardless of the base commodity price, and for many conversion technologies wood chips contain too much water and are difficult to dry.
Other feedstocks with potential to support the cellulosic biofuel industry include crops, such as switchgrass and miscanthus, or crop residues, like corn stover and sugar cane bagasse. Crops, such as switchgrass, are seen by many as a means to attain goals set by Congress because these crops have very positive benefits for soil health and erosion control, and they can be grown using considerably less water and nitrogen than traditional crops. However, energy crops also face challenges: production, harvesting, handling, storage and hauling costs are simply too high for companies with conversion technologies to make a profit.
Using agricultural wastes as feedstock also faces obstacles. Logistical challenges in collecting and transporting these materials add costs to these otherwise inexpensive feedstocks. The collection and distribution of corn stover illustrates the challenge. Stover is one of the most widely available biomass materials, and often viewed as the primary feedstock for many initial cellulosic ethanol plants. Current techniques for collecting corn stover rely on multiple passes over the field. Producers first harvest the corn and then collect the stover during a second pass during which the material often gets seriously contaminated with soil. To reduce harvesting costs, several groups are working on single pass harvesters, a machine that simultaneously collects the grain and the stover. However this technology is not yet available to farmers.
Feedstock markets are not yet available, and need to develop before farmers invest in new equipment and systems to harvest agricultural residuals or grow energy crops. Industry-wide there is a chicken and egg problem with the construction of new cellulosic biofuel plants. Financing for a large biorefinery is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to obtain without a guaranteed feedstock supply at predictable prices, and farmers are not willing to grow, process and store feedstock until there is a biorefinery to buy it.
CleanTech solves this problem by offering a reliable source of cellulosic feedstock at predictable prices that are significantly lower than the costs of biomass from other sources.
To request more information about turning garbage into energy, please contact CleanTech Biofuels.