Italian PET producer M&G builds first industrial lignocellulosic bioethanol plant
Crescentino/Tortona – Chemtex, the engineering arm of Italian PET producer Mossi & Ghisolfi Group has started to build to the world’s first industrial plant for fermentation of second generation bioethanol from cheap straw feeds, termed Italian BioProducts (IBP). The plant with a capacity of 40,000 annual tons of lignocellulosic bioethanol will start operations in 2012 and is competitive to fossil fuels from a barrel price of US$60-$70, which is US$40 less than the current price for a barrel of raw oil. If the technology shows industrial feasibility, the company plans to transfer the process to an existing first generation bioethanol plant with a capacity of 100,000 annual tons. According to PET world market leader Mossi & Ghisolfi, the Italian market for bioethanol fuels is expected to reach 1.5 million tons per year by 2020 due to European Commission plans to establish E10 gazoline with a 10% bioethanol content by then. Acreage of 3% of the Italian agricultural area with an optimised version of the low-input energy crop Giant Reed (Arundo donax) would deliver enough straw to satisfy this market need. Within 5 years of research and an overall investment of US$ 120 million, Chemtex which also is developing processes to manufacture ethylene and ethylene glycol from lignocellulosic bioethanol, has transferred its ProEsa technology from lab scale to industrial demonstration scale. Tests of the process in Mossi & Ghisolfi’s pilot plant in Rivalta showed that a new chemical-free pre-treatment of different straw feeds with or without subsequent enzymatic digestion delivered high yields of C5 and C6 sugars that are simultaneously fermented to bioethanol in a continuous enzyme reactor which could be yielded by an improved low energy process and can recycle lignin to produce energy to power the plant. Chemtex’ partner Novozymes, which was involved in enzyme optimisation, announced appropriate straw feeds would range from wheat straw to energy crops. However, overall cost-effectiveness would be dependent on a low price of the raw materials, according to presentations of M&G’s global R&D chief Dario Giordano. Currently, feed cost is at US$6.50 for producing an energy equivalent of 1 barrel of oil, Chemtex engineers stressed at Italian infocast event in Milan this February, justifying the high development costs of the process. If the patented Pro ESA technology succeeds, it could provide a greener route to ethylene glycol, one of the starting materials for PET production. Currently Mossi & Ghisolfi Group manufactures 1,3 million annual tons of PET through polycondensation of ethylene glycol with terephtalic acid. German Süd-Chemie, which was recently acquired by Swiss Clariant will start a demonstration plant for lignocellulosic bioethanol production with 2,000 annual tons capacity this year with its Sun Liquid technology which works with fungal cultures that produce the expensive enzymes needed for fermentation and lignocellulose break-down on-site.