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Novozymes’ Yeast Beast in New Release; Innova Lift’s Yield Revealed 

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 10/09/2018 - 10:02am

In North Carolina, Novozymes launched its next yeast technology, Innova Lift, for the starch-based ethanol industry. The product follows the launch earlier this year of its ambitious yeast platform, Innova, and the first product, Drive. 

The Need to Knows

• Lift is targeted to plants with longer fermentation times, generally 57 hours or more – delivering greater tolerance to common causes of yeast stress, the opportunity for better yields, and eliminating costly yeast food, which is common amongst competitive cream yeast. 

• Lift remains effective through fermentation temperature spikes up to 98°F (36.7°C) – significantly higher than the 94°F that most other yeasts can tolerate 

• Producers can eliminate downtime, cut cooling costs and maximize the plants’ efficiency, while achieving up to 2-4% better yields, compared to conventional dry yeasts 

The yeast backstory

(You’re a yeast expert? Go ahead and skip to the next section.)

Yeast converts raw materials into ethanol. Same stuff that converts grape juice into wine, or grain into whiskey. Corn goes into the plant and is broken down by enzymes to prepare it for fermentation. During fermentation, yeast is added. The yeast consumes the raw materials and releases ethanol and carbon dioxide. Ethanol producers spend a lot of time and energy ensuring that the right conditions exist for yeast to thrive. The stronger and more efficient the yeast, the better able it is to tolerate production stresses and generate ethanol – improving productivity and profitability. 

What is it?

Novozymes’ yeast platform, Innova, has been founded on new S. cerevisiae yeast – utilizing proprietary methods to enhance its ability to withstand the rigors of today’s ethanol production processes and goals. 

Innova Lift expresses a glucoamylase that is two times more effective at converting difficult-to-reach starch. When paired with advanced enzyme solutions, Lift also has the potential to significantly increase ethanol yields, reduce fermentation risks and eliminate costly inputs, while improving performance reliability. 

In short, it rounds out the portfolio — a complement to Drive, rather than cannabalizing Drive’s fan base. As we’ve seen in the world of ethanol, some prefer to run longer fermentation times, some do not. It’s proven more efficient to customize organisms to meet the range in customer needs, rather than shoehorn the industry into “one size fits all”. 

But it’s not a no-brainer. Different fermentation run times mean different glucose availability requirements, different nutrient targets. 

An ethanol plant’s fermentation is a crucial part of securing better yields. However, the fermentation process is also tricky; even small spikes in temperature or organic acid levels can cause disruptions. Having the opportunity to use a robust yeast can help producers meet these two key challenges. 

What’s Novozymes up to with this dizzying pace?

We’re just six months or so after the first announce from Planet Novozymes.Yikes, that was swift.  Fast is getting faster, and yeast is becoming an “innovation pace car” of late.

Small wonder that the branding is beginning to feel a little like advanced ride-sharing technology. Drive, Lift. Perhaps Uber, Sidecar, and Drizly will follow. 

“We always want to push the pace of innovation,” Brazeau added.  “Not because how fast we can spin the invention machine, but  in order to have a solution ready for customers – ready at the pace they want to go at.

Future Shock

Numerous ethanol plants have begun using Novozymes’ yeast since the introduction of the Innova platform and are realizing the benefits in productivity. But real-world operators often look askance at new strains. There’s the race to be second adopter.

In some ways, innovation itself is a problem — in days gone by, the more impressive the strain’s yields, the less robust in the day-to-day of plant operations. There were a lot of lab rats — rather than ship rats, the kind that survive anything. Thoroughbred performance with quarter-horse endurance — that’s been hard to do, until microbiology really accelerated in recent years.

Leaving the tantalyzing possibiolity that improvements in robustness won’t come in the future without “yield drag”.

They talk about Goldilocks organisms — just right. But we think the industry would be better served with a passel of Shackletons. That is, endurance and performance that passeth understanding.

Back to the Here and Now

Given the pace and timing of the innovation schedule, you may find yourself concerned that Novozymes’ Yeast team has been hidden away in an industrial Black Site somewhere on Mars where they have 25-hour days and few distractions, working on a microorganism captured via an comet landing.

Worry no more. It’s just the performance that is other-worldly.

What’s Next?

Novozymes ain’t saying, but we speculate there’s another release coming next spring. Our spies tell us the innovation pipeline is bursting, and it’s almost impossible to think that they’ll bottle all of it up for another 12 months. 

Having said that, expect that innovations may be aimed at expanding the portfolio with more custom solutions rather than just offering upgrades to the existing Innova Drive and Innova Lift. What will they call it? Innova Uber? Innova Beast Mode? Innova Flat Out? Innova Unbound?

“The ethanol industry has clearly been longing for new and reliable innovation for a very long time, not just updates of old products,” Brazeau noted, and that doesn’t say much, but in some ways it telegaphs a lot.

Now, over to the competition to see how they respond to Lift.

Categories: Today's News

It’s Past Midnight: Do You Know Where Funds for Your Farm Bill Energy Title Programs Stand?

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 10/09/2018 - 9:03am

By Brent Erickson, Executive Vice President, Environnmental and Industrial section, Biotechnology Innovation Organization

Special to The Digest

On September 30th, the 2018 Farm Bill officially expired. And while both chambers of Congress passed their respective bills, the final version of the legislation that supports the agricultural sector in the U.S. is still being negotiated between House and Senate leaders in conference committee. Now it appears efforts to finalize the legislation will be delayed until after the election. If Congress does not pass a new bill by the end of the year, they risk having to go back to the drawing board after a new Congress is sworn in January 3rd– a Congress that could look significantly different.

Because of this, Congress should pass the Senate version of the Farm Bill energy title without delay to ensure funding for these programs so manufacturers – many based in Rural America – can continue strengthening the burgeoning biobased economy.

Over the past year, BIO has been working to improve upon the existing Farm Bill energy title programs and reauthorize them with mandatory funding. Because of our leadership, the Senate Farm Bill energy title expands eligibility to renewable chemicals and biobased products, with mandatory funding. Supporting these technologies is economically sound policy. The U.S. biobased economy has made significant strides due to the Farm Bill energy title. A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) analysis found that biobased products contributed $393 billion to the U.S. economy, generating 4.223 million jobs. Support for these programs will ensure continued domestic growth of this sector.

One of the key energy title programs is the USDA BioPreferred Program®, which helps establish a market for companies developing renewable chemicals and biobased products by prioritizing the procurement of these products by federal agencies and their contractors. Additionally, the program issues a USDA certified renewable chemical and biobased label – ensuring the product is biobased – to manufacturers across the country, helping companies promote their products to consumers. As a result of BIO’s advocacy, the Senate bill strengthens the program to ensure certification of new renewable chemicals and biobased product processes and technologies, through the application of a biobased mass balance test method. This will increase the use of renewable feedstocks, benefitting the biobased sector and agricultural producers by making more feedstocks available for producers and creating an expanded value-added market.

By helping companies promote their renewable chemicals and biobased products, thus increasing sales, the Farm Bill’s BioPreferred Program supports millions of jobs in the renewable chemicals and biobased products industry across the country and gloablly. According to USDA, in Texas alone, the biobased products industry is valued at more than $6.8 billion and creates more than 88,000 jobs. Therefore, funding of the BioPreferred Program® is essential to generating job growth in the U.S.

The Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance program is critical to the growth of the biobased economy and is also at risk if the Farm Bill is not finalized before the end of the year. Because of BIO’s advocacy, the Senate version of the program will support companies who are developing first-of-a-kind technologies to produce advanced biofuels, as well as standalone renewable chemicals and biobased manufacturers, by helping these companies secure financing from rural lenders.

Because of BIO’s efforts, more companies with innovative technologies will be able to secure funds through this program for commercial projects across the nation. The program enables companies to meet the increasing consumer demand for cleaner biofuels and greater and safer household and personal care products.

Additionally, BIO continues to advocate for the continued funding of the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). The program provides matching payments to farmers growing dedicated energy crops to produce biofuels, biobased products and renewable chemicals. These payments provide certainty to manufacturers that dedicated feedstocks needed to produce bioproducts will be in steady supply. This certainty in the supply chain allows manufacturers to continue producing and developing the biofuels, biobased products and renewable chemicals that have become pillars of the biobased economy. Because of our efforts the Senate version of the energy title allows algae to qualify under BCAP and helps incentivize the collection of forest residue, helping remove hazardous fuels that lead to forest fires.

Of course, the ability of Congressional leaders to pass the Farm Bill will come down to dollars and cents. However, the bill’s Energy Titles barely represent a drop in the bucket. The Energy Title programs account for less than one-tenth-of-one-percent of total Farm Bill spending. For so much so success for such little funding, reauthorizing these programs with mandatory funding should be a priority, especially considering their minimal burden on the budget.

As Congressional leaders return to Washington post-election, BIO will be working to make sure their primary focus should be to pass a final Farm Bill with the Senate’s version of the energy title as soon as possible. By passing the Senate version, key programs that support the biobased economy, and thus many in rural America, will continue to be funded. If they wait until the new Congress is sworn in we could see a significant delay in reauthorizing the Farm Bill, jeopardizing funding and operation of these programs. Lack of funds for these programs would significantly impact the rapidly growing biobased economy that supports domestic manufacturing, jobs, renewable energy, rural communities, and agricultural producers across the country.

Categories: Today's News

Chinese demand for Brazilian soy leaves biodiesel producers without feedstock

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 10/08/2018 - 5:21pm

In Brazil, Bloomberg reports that thanks to demand for soybeans from China that have seen premiums double this past year, domestic soybean crushers are expected to hold off until the harvest begins in 2019 because of negative margins. So, while overall exports of soybeans are up 13% on the year through September with 91% of September’s 4.9 million metric tons of exports headed to China, the country has had to shift to importing soy oil for biodiesel production. In September, soy oil imports were 10,000 tons, up from 2,000 tons in September 2017.

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IPCC report says biofuel necessary to keep climate change under control

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 10/08/2018 - 5:20pm

In South Korea, AFP reports the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change has launched a new report saying time is running out to stop climate change but that significant investment in biofuels and associated carbon capture and storage could make a big difference. The report says it the Earth’s temperature could rise 1.5C by 2030 and has already risen 1C with 3C or 4C entirely possible. The biofuels scenario laid out by the 400-page report calls for feedstock covering the area twice the size of India to make the impact required.

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University of Technology, Jamaica teams with US company on biodiesel

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 10/08/2018 - 5:19pm

In Jamaica, the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech, Ja.) and Elhydro Limited on October 2 signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to formalize collaboration in biodiesel production and research.

UTech, Jamaica and Elhydro Limited were brought together by the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) to have meaningful discussions on the Medium Scale Castor-based Biodiesel Processing and B5 (5% Biodiesel: 95% Diesel blend) Validation to be funded by Elhydro.

Areas of collaboration and mutual interest are not limited to the production of B5 from domestically produced feedstock in the short term but will include the subsequent phase of higher Biodiesel blends such as B20/30 as well as continuous research and development to identify and design innovative techniques for the advancement in Biodiesel production and usage in areas such as:

1. The extraction and processing of Castor oil, Waste Vegetable Oils (WVO), and Meat/Chicken fats to biofuels to meet the ASTM D6751 and/or European EN 14214 fuel testing standards.
2. Biodiesel application in Diesel engines which has many important technical advantages over conventional diesel such as lubricity, low toxicity, superior flash point, negligible sulphur content and lower exhaust emissions.
3. Bi-products production, e.g. Fertilizer meal, Glycerine and Pharmaceuticals.

Categories: Today's News

RIN prices fall to lowest level since January 2014

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 10/08/2018 - 5:18pm

In Texas, Platts reports that RIN numbers fell to their lowest level since January 2014 last week at 33.5 cents/RIN for D4 ethanol RINs for 2018 compliance. As the Environmental Protection Agency continues to grant hardship waivers for smaller refiners, the amount of RINs required for compliance falls and pushes down the price of RINs in turn. Oil refiners have complained regularly that one of the Renewable Fuel Standard’s faults is the high cost of compliance through a “speculation-ridden” market that “manipulates” the price of RINs.

Categories: Today's News

German biodiesel exports jump 14% on year during H1

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 10/08/2018 - 5:17pm

In Germany, PetrolPlaza reports that German biodiesel exports through June jumped 14% on the year to 880,000 metric tons with more than 12% of the total destined for non-European markets. Even though the Netherlands reduced imports 10% during the period, it remained the main destination market at 288,800 tons, while imports from Poland jumped by about a quarter to nearly 122,000 tons. The US saw the biggest demand shift however, importing a whopping 54,670 tons compared to just 67 tons during H1 2017.

Categories: Today's News

Japanese ethanol imports rise 17% on year

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 10/08/2018 - 5:16pm

In Japan, Platts reports that August ethanol imports rose to 61,681 cubic meters, up 17% on the year and nearly 10% higher on the month. Brazil supplied nearly 61% of the 54,686 cu m of undenatured ethanol imports but the US managed to sneak in just over 15% of the total. Brazil remains the supplier of denatured ethanol for ETBE blending despite regulations easing earlier this year to allow the US to supply as well but it only accounted for less than 7,000 cu m in August.

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Researchers discover how C-lignin could be well-suited for bioproducts

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 10/08/2018 - 5:15pm

In Wisconsin, scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) with partners at the Center for Bioenergy Innovation (CBI) have shown that a recently-discovered variety of the substance, catechyl lignin (C-lignin), has attributes that could make it well-suited as the starting point for a range of bioproducts. Their findings have been published in Science Advances.

Because C-lignin monomers are held together by only one kind of bond, called ether linkages, they can be cleaved cleanly into units with the right chemical treatment. These building blocks can then be transformed in different ways depending on the desired output.

Researchers suspected hydrogenolysis would be able to cleave the ether bonds that hold C-lignin monomers together. In this case, the approach produced a simple pair of monomers in roughly 90 percent yield. Choosing the right catalyst could narrow it down to a single monomer—a striking result for a plant component oft-maligned for its obstinance.

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President Trump could announce year-round E15 on Tuesday

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 10/08/2018 - 5:14pm

In Washington, Reuters reports that President Trump plans to announce year-round E15 in Washington Tuesday around 3pm before heading on his trip to Iowa. Even a day before the announcement, it was still unclear if the White House would set out the policy for lifting restrictions on summer time E15 sales or if it would be left to the Environmental Protection Agency to set out. Last week, a bipartisan group of 20 senators wrote the president opposing the plan. Both Growth Energy and the American Petroleum Institute have been running ads during Fox & Friends trying to persuade the president on the issue.

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Of Flying Peaches and Barrels of Monkeys: The quest for sustainable flight by world-scaling a neurotransmitter

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 10/08/2018 - 9:59am

The fact that you are reading this makes the case for carbon monoxide, because the molecule works as a neurotransmitter and plays a big part of keeping your heart beating.

So, if we have a carbon monoxide problem it is the problem of having too much of it. And that’s the story of the bioeconomy in some ways  using the things we have too much of so that we can stop using the things that lead to imbalances — environmental, social or economic.

Last week, you read in the Digest or elsewhere that a Virgin Atlantic commercial flight took off from Orlando and flew to Gatwick on a blend of a petroleum and a stupendously clever new fuel  — made from carbon monoxide waste gases from a steel mill in China – and scaled up to commercial production. That Sir Richard Branson was at Gatwick to greet Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Kreeger and LanzaTech CEO Jennifer Holmgren as they emerged from the plane — along with roughly 280 passengers who were pleasantly startled to find themselves in the midst of a major step forward for sustainability.

But the story goes back to a group of pioneering scientists, mostly out of Chicago and Washington state, who over a period of years would shuttle in and out of rural southeastern Georgia, to build a process to convert Lanzahol — that is, ethanol made from steel mill offgases — into LanzaJet. They became known as the Flying Peaches, and the process they came up with — dehydration, oligomerization, hydrogenation and fractionation at what is known as the Freedom Pines Biorefinery in Soperton, Georgia — that’s the real star of the Virgin story. Branson’s well-known megawattage charisma notwithstanding.

Let’s look at how they did it, and especially we’ll look at the oligomerization, that’s the tricky part.

Ethanol to ethylene: dehydration

You may not know it, but chemically speaking, a glass of wine is basically Glad Wrap and water, which is to say that if you dehydrate the water out of ethanol, you get ethylene. Now, if you’re planning to change water into wine, tossing in some Glad Warp at room temperature and stirring won’t actually get the job, but you get the idea. 

So, dehydrate your ethanol into ethylene, and just for the moment set aside all that good clean pure water for a moment; don’t sell it just yet to Dasani. Although, just saying, you could hardly find anything as clean and fresh as water produced from ethanol (the alcohol kills off the microbes).

With ethylene, you’ve made a good start, because ethylene is a hydrocarbon and that’s what jet fuel is, too. But jet fuel is kerosene and we are miles from 10-14 carbon kerosene with our friend, two-carbon ethylene.

Oligomerize

There ought tot be a spell in the Harry Potter book series for oligimerization, because the world could surely use a magic process for this step that makes longer-chain hydrocarbons from short-chain ones.

Oligomutansis! cried Hermione

Oligomutansis! said Hermione.

For now, we’ll have to rely on the Flying Peaches and a group of researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Lab who came up with a unique oligomerization step.

There’s a long explanation and shorter, peppier one.

The long explanation starts thus:

Currently a need exists for alternative hydrocarbon fuels, especially aviation and diesel fuels, from domestic sources to enhance energy security and to decrease reliance on foreign petroleum. Current routes to alternative fuels are limited by strict fuel standards and limited fuel feed stocks…Ethylene is a feedstock available from numerous sources that could be converted to alternate open-chain hydrocarbon fuels…Ethanol…can be considered an ethylene precursor. However, conversion of ethylene via conventional direct, single step conversion processes catalyzed by solid acid catalysts, such as silicoaluminates, is typically characterized by high process temperatures (>280.degree. C.) that form large quantities of coke, and extensive formation of aromatic compounds up to 70 wt %. Single-step processes such as that reported by Heveling et al. over Ni/Si–Al and other catalysts are reported to produce open-chain hydrocarbons at high ethylene conversions, but with selectivities to .gtoreq.C10 of only ca 40% and to .gtoreq.C8 of only about 63%. Further, multi-step conversion processes reported in the literature have potentially better selectivities to open-chain compounds, but conversions to date are low and significant quantities of aromatic compounds are produced. For example, Synfuels International reports a multi-step process using Ni catalysts at process temperatures from 220.degree. C. to 240.degree. C. that produces a product composition containing between 4% to 90% aromatics. At the reported maximum selectivity of 70% middle distillate products and an ethylene conversion of only 26%, the maximum possible product yield in the middle distillate range is only about 18%. The 2-step Synfuels International process does not improve upon and, in fact, gives a lower distillate yield (18%) than the 1-step process reported by Heveling (40%). Thus, the 2-step approach by Synfuels International does not represent an economically feasible approach for obtaining high yields of distillate fuels…The present invention addresses these needs using, surprisingly, a 2-step method that provides distillate yields greater than the 18% of the prior art. 

And you can read all about it here.

The Barrel of Monkeys game

For the short explanation, let me refer you to the Barrel of Monkeys game. You may remember, you have a small barrel of plastic monkeys, and you have to link them together into a long chain, by picking them up one at a time using the one money to gran the second, the chain of two to gran a third, the chain or three to grab a fourth, and so on. Think of the short-chain molecules as the monkeys, and as an inorganic catalyst (possibly zeolite-based) as the molecule that catches the monkeys and spins one into a connection with the others. 

And, thus we arrive at long-chain hydrocarbons.

The catalyst can be tuned so that what is produced is a diesel-jet mix that can be anything from 90/10 jet to 70/30 diesel. It has to do with the length of the carbon chains. Anyway, we’re going to end up with some of each. And that means we have to separate those two types of fuel. We’ll come back to that shortly.

For now, we have a small problem to overcome. Now, we have unsaturated hydrocarbons. If you’ve been reading about saturated fats and unsaturated fats and transfats in the health and nutrition debate, that’s all you really need to know. There are unsaturated molecules and saturated ones, they behave differently, and kerosene is a fully saturated hydrocarbon, so now we need another step.

Hydrogenation

That’s hydrogenation, which you might remember from the food shelf, because those are the creamy fats, which are more stable, and that’s good for shelf life, but they contain transfats, and that’s bad. None of which has much to do with kerosene because, for goodness sakes, no one drinks it. But you get the idea that there’s this step called hydrogenation, and basically we grab some loose hydrogen and treat the fats until they are saturated, which is to say that everywhere you can connect a hydrogen atom to a carbon atom, you have done so. And we can do that with hydrocarbons as well.

Now, about that loose hydrogen lying around. The sun is completely replete with H2; in fact, it’s the most abundant element in the solar system and there isn’t even a close second. So, go and grab some. 

And that when we run into the “cost and temperature of landing hydrogen miners onto the surface of the sun” problem, as it is definitely not known in academic circles. However you limn the term, standalone hydrogen is not freely available in pure form here on the good earth.

But there’s good news. Remember all that water we set aside in the dehydration step? Yes, we’re net positive on water, and we can split that into hydrogen and oxygen. Presto, we have hydrogen.

Last step

The Freedom Pines biorefinery in Soperton, Georgia

Above, I mentioned that we end up with some diesel-range and some kerosene-range molecules in our mix. Now, we have to separate those out. Happily, that’s a well understood step (usually, distillation, as the two fuels have different boiling points). One of the reasons that a lot of biorefineries and all petroleum refineries have these giant distillation columns.

And there we have it. Fermentation. Dehydration. Oligimerization. Hydrogenation. Fractionation. Perfectly good jet fuel as a propellant, extraordinarily low-carbon, and brought to you by a whole bunch of bright thinking by those Flying Peaches down at Freedom Pines.

All from carbon monoxide. Recaptured carbon. It’s extraordinary, really.

So, we should make it. And now, we know that we can make it. 

But will we make it. That’s where Virgin Atlantic comes in, and so long as the cost is reasonable and that has a lot to do with scale-up and supply chain building and solid policy — all things furiously underway around the world, we might have something we really can use. Made from something we couldn’t use. Except in those very minute quantities, such as out bodies learned so long ago in designing the brain and the nervous system and, well, us.

The Carbon opportunity

For some time there’s been too much of a debate over what is a biofuel, are biofuels useful and viable, and so forth. It’s a crazy debate, in the end. All fossil carbon has an organic origin, and all biogenic carbon has a fossil element these days. You can’t find a tree that hasn’t used some petroleum-based carbon to make its leaves, or a barrel of oil that at some point in history wasn’t a pool of plants or algae. Solar and wind technology use fossil energy and so do electric motors. The pursuit of pure raw materials is search for unicorns. The proper pursuit is making the very most out of every molecule of carbon we have — it’s the one-and-done attitude of “dig, refine, burn, vent” that has us bottled up in a climate change debate. The way out is less about Percival’s search for the holy grail and more about second-change carbon. Capturing everything within the system and re-using just once — that’s half the carbon battle.  There’s really not much in the world that poses a danger to the narrow niche that we humans thrive within, so long as we don’t vent, thoughtlessly. It’s a good rule for dinner table conversation, too.

The carbon monoxide opportunity

Bottom line: carbon monoxide is a really great thing if you know exactly how to use it. And that’s what is great about recapturing carbon. It’s so important and useful — everything organic is made from it  — capture and use is as smart as any technology in the world.

Categories: Today's News

Getting the Most out of Technoeconomic Analyses

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 10/08/2018 - 8:48am

By Daniel A. Lane, Ph.D., Member, Lee Enterprises Consulting, Inc.
Special to The Digest

At its most basic level, technoeconomic analysis or assessment (TEA) is a cost-benefit comparison tool used to evaluate the commercial viability of a process.  While many companies are quite familiar with this tool, a number of startups often forgo TEAs of their processes until quite late in the development timeline, which can be a fatal mistake. Considering the TEA early – and often – during process development can highlight future problems early, can provide due diligence to prospective investors and partners, and can help prepare for a successful scale-up effort.  In this article, I will demonstrate the value of using TEAs not just to determine commercial viability, but to focus and to direct R&D efforts, and to improve the likelihood of a successful scale-up.

TEAs Under the Microscope

Technoeconomic analysis utilizes a blend of technical modeling, engineering design, and economic evaluation to produce a meaningful result that qualifies – and can be used to quantify – the commercial viability of a process.  A typical methodology is to produce a mass and energy balance of the process, then create a preliminary facility design that identifies and sizes major equipment.  From the mass and energy balance and the facility design, information such as capital costs, operating costs, and financial performance of the overall process can be determined, thereby allowing a detailed economic evaluation of the proposed venture (see Figure 1 below).

Figure 1- Interconnectivity between (sample) steps involved in a TEA

In order to glean the most value from TEAs, it’s necessary to have a solid understanding of what they can and cannot do.  TEAs, while powerful, do not consider everything needed to properly evaluate a process.  For example, while TEAs offer the opportunity to determine carbon utilization efficiency, they do not consider environmental impacts and permitting.  While TEAs do not include market analyses, they can be used for go/no-go decision making based on detailed market analyses.  As with any tool, the value of the result depends significantly on the quality of the information fed into it.

A large part of the techno-portion of the TEA is the mass and energy balance (M&E).  Higher quality M&Es allow more detailed and specific equipment selection/sizing and can also highlight issues early like byproduct handling or environmental emissions.  M&Es should be based on stoichiometry as much as possible, and not simple mass conversion equations.  As an example, with fermentation, it can be difficult to create a balanced stoichiometric equation because of the production of cell mass, and thus it is tempting to simply produce a mass conversion equation (“1 sugar →0.02 yeast + 1.99 ethanol + 1.99 CO2”).  However, careful consideration of nutrient addition and simplification of molecular formulae is a more rigorous approach that will produce a much more meaningful result.  Table 1 below shows an example of detailed stoichiometric fermentation reactions (Humbird, et al., 2011):

C6H12O6 → 2 C2H5OH + 2 CO2

C6H12O6 + 0.047 CSL* + 0.018 (NH4)2HPO4→ 6 CH1.8O0.5N0.2+ 2.4 H2O

C6H12O6 + 2 H2O→ 2 C3H8O3 + O2

C6H12O6 + 2 CO2→ 2 C4H6O4 + O2 * Corn steep liquor, modeled as a mixture of water, protein, and lactic acid

Table1- Sample rigorous fermentation stoichiometry

In addition to the M&E, a process design is required to deal with items like equipment selection/sizing and utility consumption.  At the early stages of a process, it may be necessary to make assumptions for equipment selection, but it is still a required part of the TEA.

The –economicportion of the TEA takes as inputs many items that are determined from the output of the techno-part.  For example, capital costs are determined by equipment sizing and selection, which is in turn based on the mass balance and process design.  Operating costs are generated both from the M&E and the process design (e.g. feedstock and utility consumption).  In addition, this part should also include indirect and direct construction costs (e.g. planning, consulting, EPC, freight, taxes, etc.) as well as financial variables such as cost of capital, tax rate, and debt-to-equity ratio.  The outputs of the TEA typically include estimates of the total fixed capital investment, annual operating costs, insurance costs, and cash flow analysis. Investment metrics are also produced: With a fixed cost of capital, payback period and net present value of the investment can be estimated; with NPV set to zero, the internal rate of return can be estimated.

One last thing to note about TEAs is that the techno-part by itself can add value to an organization performing process and technology development.  While an assessment of commercial viability requires more, even a preliminary M&E can highlight potential problems or opportunities such as co-product generation or utility requirements at larger than laboratory scale.

When to Use TEAs

One of the biggest misunderstandings about TEAs is the assumption that they are only necessary when it comes time to scale up a technology.  Some companies don’t even consider TEAs until after they have built a pilot plant.  The truth is, TEAs offer value to organizations at almost every stage of development: from early-stage startups seeking seed money to fully established organizations looking to fund their next big project.  They offer value to R&D directors looking to determine how to assign resources and to business development VPs looking to land the next big corporate partnership.  To better illustrate this, consider how TEAs can be utilized for processes at different technology readiness levels.  (For a more detailed discussion of TRLs, see Dave Humbird’s earlier article in this series, Expanded Technology Readiness Level (TRL) Definitions for the Bioeconomy.)

Early-Stage Startup – Fundamental R&D (TRL 1-3)

Early stage startup companies are often looking to develop their technology at the same time as they are looking for funding to continue operations.  Without an established product on the market, the lack of revenues squeezes the R&D function and limits resources significantly.  To avoid throwing money away by continuing operations without a viable technology, the first question the organization must answer is, “Will this even make money?”  It’s common to hear the ‘better mousetrap’ metaphor as a driving force for innovation, but how can an organization determine whether people will actually pay for that mousetrap?  Preliminary TEAs can help answer this question be providing an estimate of the cost to produce said mousetrap, which can then be considered relative to a market analysis.  If the cost looks too high versus the existing market, the TEA can be used to estimate decreasing costs with increasing scale.

One of the major reasons I’ve heard for early-stage companies not performing TEAs is a lack of detailed knowledge of the technology or the process to complete one.  Certainly, preliminary TEAs must rely on quite a few assumptions, but a key benefit of this is that it forces startups to make them.  Just the act of making and questioning the validity of an assumption can awaken the realization that there is additional work for the R&D pipeline early enough that there is time to work on it.  At this point, anything that can accelerate the path through the ‘valley of death’ is worth pursuing.  And speaking of financing, a final note about early stage usage of TEAs: Government granting agencies love to see TEAs.

The TEA as an R&D Tool

I once had a client that was very early stage, working on angel investor funds out of an incubator to improve their fermentation process to produce a novel biomaterial.  Looking forward toward a Series A funding round, they wanted a TEA to show profitability of their process at commercial scale, so they could take it to potential investors.  In the course of creating the TEA, I incorporated rate, yield, and titer variability into the mass balance.  While reviewing the model with my client, I was able to demonstrate that while they had made significant progress on increasing their fermentation yield, both rate and titer were low enough that huge fermenters would be required to make any reasonable amount of material, and therefore their capital costs were huge, as well.  By varying these parameters in the model, I could show their impact on capital costs.  With this information, they shifted R&D resources to focus on increasing rate and titer and within a year had improved sufficiently to secure the funding they were pursuing.

Established Startup – Validation & Scale-Up (TRL 4-6)

Once a startup company has established funding and is focused on validating their process and scaling it, TEAs can serve multiple purposes.  At this point, the R&D function is likely well-staffed, but has its hands full with laboratory trials and technology development (vs. process development).  The distribution of these resources can have a significant impact on the timeline for commercialization, and TEAs can help by highlighting which ‘knob’ has the greatest impact on profitability.  For example, enzyme efficacy for biomass pretreatment has made significant strides in the last decade in part because early TEAs showed enzyme cost per mass of final product as untenable for commercial viability.  On the engineering side of things, TEAs can show where there are bottlenecks and allow for the necessary process development to eliminate these early enough to be included in pilot plant design.  Finally, pilot plant design itself can benefit greatly from a rigorous TEA.  Modeling the process at commercial scale can be used to identify the smallest commercially viable demonstration plant, and that can then be scaled downward at a reasonable factor for the technology to determine the best pilot plant scale. (Remember, demo plants are not supposedto lose money, and technology should be scaled by reasonable factors to enable a successful scale-up…but those are topics for a different article.)

Demonstration & Commercial Deployment (TRL 7-9)

The pilot plant is complete and has been running successfully for 1000+ hours and the overall process design is well established.  The pilot plant is fully integrated, includes feedstock handling, and even includes product packaging.  The technology is proven, from tip to tail.  At this point, the TEA becomes much more a financial tool, since the techno-part of it is effectively set in stone.  However, as a financial tool, it is still extremely useful and is worth updating.  Updating stoichiometry, utility consumption, production variables, etc. with validated data will enable a much more rigorous analysis of commercial-scale production.  In addition to helping to secure financing, the TEA will also provide information needed to apply for permits and negotiate off-take agreements, waste handling contracts, and utility contracts.  More importantly, a rigorous TEA will help determine whether scale-up from demo should be modular or scaled.  For startups that are looking at that first product going to market, all of this information is critical to getting through the “valley of death” quickly. For well-established large corporations, it may be less critical – they’re on the other side of that valley – but even the largest companies have limited capital availability, and a solid TEA can help with project selection.

Business Development (TRL 1-9)

Although business development means something different to an angel-funded startup than to a publicly-traded company with a $100MM market cap, it is always easier to perform with a solid TEA as support.  Finding investors or joint venture partners requires showing profitability, commercial viability, and a detailed commercialization plan, all of which are far easier to do with a TEA.  As mentioned above, profitability and commercial viability are outputs that rely in part on scaling the process until the desired result can be obtained.  A good TEA is tightly linked to the process model and the M&E balance, so updates to scale propagate through the model and produce updated financial results.  It can be difficult to quickly account for the resultant changes in capital cost, but things like scaling functions for equipment cost estimation can provide rapid estimates of equipment costs and thus allow for rapid updates to the financial model.  This in turn allows for rapid completion of sensitivity analyses that can show the impact of various items such as capital cost, feedstock cost, utility cost, tax rate, and production scale on financial metrics such as NPV, IRR, or payback period. An updated TEA is an essential tool for successful business development.

References

Humbird, D., Davis, R., Tao, L., Kinchin, C., Hsu, D., Aden, A., . . . Dudgeon, D. (2011). Process Design and Economics for Biochemical Conversion of Lignocellulosic Biomass to Ethanol. Golden, Colorado: National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

 About the Author

Dr. Daniel Lane, Principal of Saille Consulting, is a member of Lee Enterprises Consulting, the world’s premier bioeconomy consulting group, with more than 100 consultants and experts worldwide who collaborate on interdisciplinary projects, including the types discussed in this article. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and do not necessarily express the views of Lee Enterprises Consulting.

Categories: Today's News

Scaling up biobased BTX: The Digest’s 2018 Multi-Slide Guide to Anellotech

Biofuels Digest - Sun, 10/07/2018 - 12:48pm

Founded in 2008, Anellotech has developed a clean technology platform for inexpensively producing bio-based chemicals from renewable non-food biomass. These drop-in, green versions of widely used petrochemicals; benzene, toluene and xylenes, are used to make plastics for consumer goods such as beverage bottles and packaging, clothing, carpeting, automotive parts, home and construction materials, electronic products, and a wide array of industrial products.

From its Pearl River, New York, facility, once research is completed Anellotech will license its Catalytic Fast Pyrolysis process to industrial users around the world. Commercial scale applications are expected by 2019.

Anellotech CEO David Sudolsky gave this illuminating overview of the technology’s progress and promise as part of The Early Stage webinar series.

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Sustainable intensification: The Digest’s 2018 Multi-Slide Guide to more biomass for bioenergy without imposing iLUC

Biofuels Digest - Sun, 10/07/2018 - 12:44pm

Sustainable intensification of agricultural systems in combination with biorefinery processing can produce more biomass for bioenergy without imposing iLUC. That’s the topic of this illuminating overview from Poul Erik Laerke and Uffe Jørgensen of Aarhus University Foulum, as presented at a recent IEA Bioenergy Task 43 workshop.

 

The complete presentation can be found here.

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The Digest’s 2018 Multi-Slide Guide to optimizing lignocellulosic cropping systems

Biofuels Digest - Sun, 10/07/2018 - 12:39pm

How attractive are systems for Bioenergy Feedstock Production in Sustainably Managed Landscapes for Rural Development?

Ioannis Dimitriou, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Dep. of Crop Production Ecology offered this illuminating overview at a recent IEA Bioenergy Task 43 workshop.

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From Unloved Woods to Desirable bioenergy: The Digest’s 2018 Multi-Slide Guide to wood and forest projects

Biofuels Digest - Sun, 10/07/2018 - 12:33pm

Increasing global demand for energy, a push by governments and industry to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG), and a desire to increase energy independence are driving the demand for renewable alternatives to fossil fuels. As a source of renewable carbon that can be used in the existing energy infrastructure, woody biomass is an attractive feedstock for the production of bioenergy (meant here to include biomass- based energy carriers in solid, gaseous and liquid forms) in the form of heat, power and liquid transportation biofuels. A key feedstock for bioenergy is woody biomass, which is defined by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to include surplus forest growth that could potentially be harvested over and above current harvesting rates while still remaining within the sustainable harvest rate of the forest.

This presentation was given by researcher Evelyn Thiffault as part of an IEA Bioenergy workshop.

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Biorefinery Monitoring: The Digest’s 2018 Multi-Slide Guide to Bioeconomy Materials Flows & Assessment

Biofuels Digest - Sun, 10/07/2018 - 12:25pm

Reliable information is an essential foundation for policy decisions. We are therefore working:

  • to provide a solid database of the de facto development,
  • to develop manageable and summarizing balance sheets and indicators, which aggregate multitude data to informative key ratios.

Even if only dynamic technological development with new opportunities is considered, which has not been identified today, and the understanding of systemic relationships und interactions continously is expanded, we finally achieve a challenging modelling, which may be further improved.

The objective is to develop the basics for a national monitoring system of present and future flows of biomass. Here, the resource base (biomass utilization/ biomass potential) has to be measured as well as the flow of the biomass right down to the end consumers.

Here a group led by the Danish Institute of Market Analysis gave this overview of a bioeconomy monitoring system, as part of a IEA Bioenergy Task 43 workshop.

Categories: Today's News

Norway first country in the world to impose biofuel requirements on airlines

Biofuels Digest - Sat, 10/06/2018 - 9:41am

In Norway, the Ministry of Climate and Environment said that any airline operating in Norway will now be required to use more environmentally friendly jet fuel mixed with biofuel. The measure, which requires a 0.5% advanced biofuel mix into jet fuel starting in 2020, is part of Norway’s goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

“The government’s goal is that by 2030, 30 percent of the airline fuel will be sustainable with a good climate effect,” said the ministry according to Reuters. Norway’s Climate and Environment Minister Ola Elvestuen said in an emailed statement to Reuters that this “corresponds to around 6 million liters of what is also known as second-generation biofuels, a product of waste and leftovers, and cannot be based on palm oil. As far as we are aware, no other country has proposed legislation similar to the Norwegian plans.”

Categories: Today's News

Oman building 4 biogas plants and tackling food waste

Biofuels Digest - Sat, 10/06/2018 - 9:39am

In Oman, Oman Environmental Holding Services Company, more commonly known as Be’ah, is building biogas plants that run on food waste. Four plants are being set up to use up about 560,000 tons of food waste, which will save the equivalent of about OMR56 million (about $145 million) in costs each year for its disposal.

Fahad Ali Al Kharusi, head of Business Development at Be’ah told Times of Oman that studies are underway to determine how these biogas plants can exploit this organic waste in producing electric energy and that “In the Sultanate, food waste alone accounts for approximately 560,000 tonnes produced in households, due to the high consumption rates, which results in a loss of value amounting to OMR 56 million annually.”

According to Be’ah, this project would be the first of its kind in the Sultanate. Al Kharusi told Times of Oman, “The aim of the biogas plants is to be used to produce electricity. However, biogas has many uses, such as the creation of bio-fuel in vehicles, or using its heat energy in heating and cooling industrial areas. It can also be used domestically as cooking gas.”

 

Categories: Today's News

Leadership changes and excitement abound for RFA

Biofuels Digest - Sat, 10/06/2018 - 9:38am

In Washington, D.C., the Renewable Fuels Association had a busy week with several big announcements about its leadership. The RFA completed the final steps of the succession plan it announced in July, as Geoff Cooper formally began his tenure as RFA’s new President and CEO, and Bob Dinneen began his new role as Senior Strategic Advisor.

Cooper joined RFA in 2008 as the organization’s Director of Research and Analysis. He previously worked on ethanol issues for the National Corn Growers Association and served as a Captain in the U.S. Army, specializing in bulk petroleum product logistics. As part of RFA’s restructuring, the association also announced the following additional staffing changes:

  • Jessica Bennett was promoted to lead Government Affairs, with the new title, Vice President of Government & External Affairs.
  • Connor Hamburg will join RFA later this month as the new Director of Government Affairs.
  • Jackie Pohlman has been hired as RFA’s new Manager of Member Relations.

The RFA also elected Neil Koehler, co-founder and CEO of Pacific Ethanol, as chairman of the RFA board of directors. Koehler has more than 30 years of experience in ethanol production, sales, and marketing in the United States. He succeeds Mick Henderson, general manager of Commonwealth Agri-Energy LLC, as RFA chairman. RFA also elected Jeanne McCaherty of Guardian Energy LLC as the board’s Vice Chair, and Charles Wilson of Trenton Agri Products LLC as the board Treasurer.

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