UK technology makes bio-ethanol from US municipal waste

British cellulosic ethanol specialist TMO Renewables has won a deal to build its technology into biofuel refineries in the US.

The company has signed a 20-year contract with Fiberight, a US-based clean technology firm, to design and build bio-ethanol plants in the US. TMO said the deal could be worth in excess of $25 million a year to it.

Developed near Guildford, England, where TMO has a full-scale demo facility, the cellulosic ethanol technology converts waste biomass using a specially designed microorganism. The US plants will combine this with Fiberight’s fractionation and digestion technology to improve the conversion of municipal solid waste (MSW) and associated cellulosic waste into ethanol.

TMO said that the agreement envisages 15 plants being designed and built across the US within the next five years. TMO will receive a one-off design fee for each plant, plus recurring annual revenue. The site and funding for the first plant has already been secured, and construction is expected to begin in 2011. The next five sites have also been identified and Fiberight has agreed to commission a number of plants throughout the US each year.

Fiberight’s process uses digestion and fractionation to sort non-recyclable MSW, 102 million tons of which is generated each year in the US, into a ‘clean fibre’ stream. This material feeds directly into TMO’s process which uses a unique bacterium to convert biomass into ethanol.

The companies claimed that the process recovers potentially over 80 per cent of residential waste into valuable biofuels and recyclables with no external energy or water inputs.

TMO has already achieved project yields in excess of 90 US gallons (340 litres) per ton (dry weight) at pilot scale by processing MSW feedstock from Fiberight at its UK demo facility. It said that the metrics support the scalability and economics to achieve attractive conversion of waste biomass into cellulosic ethanol.

In addition to the revenue from 5 million gallons (19 million litres) of ethanol produced from the first plant, Fiberight will also receive tipping fees for the municipal and commercial waste that it treats. Of that, approximately 50 per cent is used to produce ethanol, with the remainder sold as recoverables, such as plastics and metals.

“In adopting the TMO process, Fiberight has proven the ability to use waste stream feedstock, net of all recyclables, for the effective conversion to cellulosic ethanol via a novel, low cost and fully integrated bio-process,” declared Hamish Curran, TMO’s CEO.

He added: “Replication of similar waste to ethanol bio-refineries, across all regions of the US and globally, can drive significant green job creation and community economic development.”

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