Challenges in the Production Line
Conversion Process Technical Challenges
- Biomass Fractionation
- Biomass Variability
- Biomass Recalcitrance
- Pretreatment Chemistry
- Pretreatment Costs
- Cellulase Enzyme Production Cost
- Cellulase Enzyme Loading
- Enzyme Biochemistry
- Fuels Organism Development
Biomass Fractionation: Fractionation can be used to increase the value of the individual components in biomass prior to their subsequent conversion to products. Currently, the interactions between chemical, biological, solvation (ability to go into solution), and mechanical processes to ultimately allow biomass to be more efficiently fractionated at high yield into high-purity components is insufficiently understood to implement commercially.
Biomass Variability: The characteristics of biomass can vary widely in terms of physical and chemical composition, size, shape, moisture content, and bulk density. These variations can make it difficult (or costly) to supply biorefineries with feedstocks of consistent, acceptable quality year-round, and also feedstock variability affects overall conversion rate and product yield of biomass conversion processes.
Biomass Recalcitrance: Lignocellulosic biomass feedstocks are naturally resistant to chemical and/or biological degradation. A lack of understanding of the root causes of the recalcitrance of biomass limits the ability to focus efforts to improve the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of pretreatment and other fractionation processes.
Pretreatment Chemistry: The critical physical and chemical properties that determine the susceptibility of cellulosic substrates to hydrolysis and the role that lignin and other pretreatment products play in impeding access to cellulose are not well understood. Continued significant cost reductions in pretreatment technologies via improved sugar yields and quality require developing a better understanding of pretreatment process chemistries, including the kinetics of hemicellulose and cellulose hydrolysis.
Pretreatment Costs: Pretreatment reactors typically require expensive materials of construction to resist acid or alkali attack at elevated temperatures. In addition, the impact of reaction configuration and reactor design on thermochemical cellulose prehydrolysis is not well understood. Developing lower-cost pretreatments depends on the ability to process the biomass in reactors designed for maximum solid levels and fabricated out of cost-effective materials.
Cellulase Enzyme Production Cost: Cellulase enzymes remain a significant portion of the projected production cost of sugars from cellulosic biomass. Cost-effective enzyme production technologies are not currently available.
Cellulase Enzyme Loading: Reducing the cost of enzymatic hydrolysis depends on identifying more efficient enzyme preparations and enzyme hydrolysis regimes that permit more cost-effective substrates and lower ratios of enzyme to substrate to be used.
Enzyme Biochemistry: Currently available enzymes do not exhibit the high thermostability and substantial resistance to sugar end-product inhibition. Developing enzymes that enable low-cost enzymatic hydrolysis technology requires more understanding of the fundamental mechanisms underlying the biochemistry of enzymatic cellulose hydrolysis, including the impact of biomass structure on enzymatic cellulose decrystallization.
Cleanup/Separation: Sugar solutions resulting from thermochemical pretreatment are impure, containing a mixture of sugars and a variety of non-sugar components, which are inhibitory to microbial fermentation or biocatalysis. Potential impurities include acetic acid liberated upon hydrolysis of hemicellulose, lignin-derived phenolics solubilized during pretreatment, inorganic acids or alkalis or other compounds introduced during pretreatment, various salts, and hexose and pentose sugar degradation or transglycosylation products. Low-cost purification technologies need to be developed that can remove impurities from hydrolysates and provide concentrated, clean sugar feedstocks to manufacture biofuels and biobased products.
Fuels Organism Development: Fermentation organisms used today have not been optimized for production of liquid fuels (ethanol, butanol and other alcohols) from the sugar mixture in the hydrolyzate broth produced during biomass pretreatment and enzymatic hydrolysis. For example, current organisms are not capable of utilizing the five-carbon sugar components, xylose and arabinose, in the biomass hydrolyzate as efficiently as glucose. Improvements in fermentative organisms to perform in hydrolysate broths can significantly lower capital costs.
Thermochemical Platform Technical Challenges
- Feeding Dry Biomass
- Feeding or Drying Wet Biorefinery Streams
- Gasification of Wood, Biorefinery Residue Streams and Low Sugar Content biomass
- Pyrolysis of Biomass
- Syngas Cleanup and Conditioning
- Fuels Catalyst Development
- Validation of Syngas Quality
- Sensors and Controls
Feeding Dry Biomass: In the longer term, there is a need for improvements in the processing and feeding of dry biomass including densification and removal of problematic chemical contaminants (e.g. alkali species). Demonstrating reliable feeding of dry biomass into pressurized systems is also needed.
Feeding or Drying Wet Biorefinery Streams: There is a need to understand the costs and trade-off of drying or feeding wet biorefinery residues such as wet lignin-rich fermentation residues. Innovative dryer designs capable of utilizing low-value process heat will be important to the emerging integrated biorefineries
Gasification of Wood, Biorefinery Residue Streams and Low Sugar Content Biomass: There is a need to understand the fuel chemistry and physical handling properties of other biomass feedstocks, minor byproducts and co-products, and biorefinery residual solids. This includes developing an understanding of gasification options and their chemistries for materials including wood, spent pulping liquors, agricultural residues that are high in minerals, high-lignin feedstocks and residues, and high-moisture organic residues.
Pyrolysis of Biomass: Development of new methods to control the pyrolytic pathways to bio-oil intermediates in order to increase product yield and recovery is needed. New methods to clean and stabilize the bio-oil intermediate are also needed to ensure that the product is compatible with refining technology. These advances include improved hydrotreating catalysts, and techniques for processing the bio-oil.
Syngas Cleanup and Conditioning: There is a near-term need for gas cleaning and conditioning technology that can cost-effectively remove contaminants such as tar, particulates, alkali, and sulphur. The interactions between the catalysts used for gas cleanup and conditioning, and the gasification conditions and feedstock are not well understood. These interactions require careful attention to trace contaminants.
Fuels Catalyst Development: Though the production of mixed alcohols from syngas has been known since the beginning of the last century, the commercial success of mixed alcohol synthesis has been limited by poor selectivity and low product yields. Improved catalysts with increased productivity and selectivity to higher alcohols are required to enable viable capital costs. The catalysts must afford high selectivity to the desired end product, be robust with respect to the pyrolysis oil impurities, and have high conversion rates and long lifetimes. Improvement to the robustness of hydrocracking catalysts for producing hydrocarbon biofuels via pyrolysis is also needed.
Validation of Syngas Quality: Syngas quality specifications for production of liquid fuel products like methanol/dimethyl ether (MeOH/DME), mixed alcohols and hydrocarbon liquids are reasonably well known. However, validation that syngas from biomass can meet the rigorous quality specification needed for the production of liquid fuels via catalytic synthesis is still needed.
Sensors and Controls: Effective process control will be needed to maintain plant performance and regulate emissions at target levels with varying load, fuel properties, and atmospheric conditions. Commercial control systems need to be developed for thermochemical processes and systems.
- Ethanol as Biofuels
- What are feedstocks?
- Properties of Feedstocks for ethanol production
- Yield of Biomass for Various Feedstocks
- Feedstocks used by Various Companies
- Why Cellulosic Ethanol?
- Cellulosic Ethanol Production
- Cellulosic Ethanol Production Value Chain
- Ethanol production methods
- Biochemical Conversion Process
- Thermochemical Conversion process
- Latest Discoveries and Breakthroughs
- R & D Roadmap in Cellulosic Ethanol
- Future projections
- Companies Involved in Producing Cellulosic Ethanol
- Investments & Funding
- Challenges & Barriers in the commercialization process