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Comment Processing & Handling

Biomass fractionation and conversion technology to be scaled up

By Scott Jenkins |

Plans are underway for a demonstration-scale facility in France that will convert non-food lignocellulosic biomass into raw materials for bio-based chemicals and animal feed products, such as feed for fish farming. The process, developed by Arbiom (Research Triangle Park, N.C.; www.arbiom), is currently operated at pilot scale at a facility in Norton, Va. The Arbiom process efficiently separates agricultural and forestry waste biomass into its constituent components: C5 sugars, C6 sugars and lignin. The products will be used for making bio-based chemicals, feed and other products.

“It’s challenging to efficiently convert cellulose, which is primarily in a crystalline form, into the C6 sugar glucose using today’s enzymes,” explains Arbiom chief operating officer Marc Chevrel. “So we are upscaling a proprietary phosphoric acid pretreatment process for the biomass that generates amorphous cellulose, which is more highly reactive and more easily hydrolyzed by industrial enzymes into glucose.”

The pretreatment step occurs under mild process conditions and has been designed to simplify the development of Arbiom’s optimized enzyme cocktails. This lowers operational costs. Along with a partner, the company has also developed a phosphoric acid recycling system to re-use the acid.

Beginning with a material such as sawdust, Arbiom’s biomass fractionation process first separates hemi-cellulose, which is converted into the C5 sugar xylose. Then cellulose is separated to be enzymatically converted to glucose. The reactions are carried out in specially adapted reactors. While the pilot plant has used batch reactors, the demonstration facility in development will move toward continuous production, Chevrel says.

Construction of the 5,000-ton/yr demonstration-scale plant is being supported by grants from the European Union Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI-JU) and from the French government. The plant will be co-located with a pulp-and-paper production facility in eastern France to take advantage of material transport logistics. Arbiom is working with partners to use the sugars generated in its process for biologically derived products, and is investigating several applications for the lignin from the fractionation process.

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