Who are the UK’s Wizards of Waste and why are they the best at something-from-nothing since Potter & Dumbledore?

UnknownApparently, no waste in the UK goes unloved. Here, we look at three technologies that have picked up GBP 25 million from the UK Department of Transportation at the avant-garde of low-carbon fuels.

As we reported overnight in The Digest, the UK’s Department of Transport is making an effort to jump-start domestic advanced biofuels, made from waste, announcing three grants from a £25 million fund to help develop greener fuel technology and boost local industry.

The awardees were:

Household waste. Advanced Plasma Power, in Swindon, will receive £11 million to help develop biofuels from ordinary household waste

Industrial waste. Celtic Renewables, based in Edinburgh, has been awarded £11 million to fund a new plant to make biofuels from Scotch whisky by-products, with plans to open a further 3 commercial plants across Scotland in the future

Forestry waste. Nova Pangaea Technologies Ltd, based in Tees Valley, will receive £3 million to help make biofuels from forestry waste.

Who Are Those Guys?

But who are they and how exactly do their technologies work?

Advanced Plasma Power

gasplasmaWhat’s the technology? APP has developed the Gasplasma process, a combination of two well-established technologies – gasification and plasma treatment. After the removal of valuable recyclates, the Gasplasma process treats a wide range of non-recyclable feedstocks produced from residual municipal solid waste and commercial/industrial waste converting them all into two high value outputs: synthesis gas and a solid, vitrified product (Plasmarok) – each with multiple applications.

What is vitrification? As James L. Stewart observed in The Digest earlier this year, “The plasma vitrification process offers immense potential for MSW disposal, because it is capable of achieving 100% landfill diversion. Plasma processes operate at temperatures well over 5,000°F, and at these high temperatures, they are able to break down any terrestrial material with an ultra-clean emissions profile. Plasma Power of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, a leader in plasma technology, has achieved thousands of hours of commercial operation, processing a wide range of waste streams, including MSW, post MRF Residuals, coal ash, drilling waste, ASR, biomass and other industrial waste streams that are hard to remediate. The process is self-powering and able to convert its vitrified product into high value insulation and other green products, resulting in zero waste.

The company’s progress. In June 2014, APP signed a contract as the technology provider for a new 20MW waste to energy plant in the Port of Hamilton, Canada being built by Port Fuels & Materials Services, Inc.  The contract, valued at nearly £20 million, represented the company’s first order for a full-scale commercial facility and is a significant step towards the widespread adoption of its technology.
Ontario produces approximately 13 million tonnes of commercial and municipal waste annually. The region is under pressure to develop alternative waste management strategies. The project in the Port of Hamilton will, subject to final regulatory approval, use APP’s Gasplasma technology to efficiently process up to 170,000 tonnes of waste annually delivering power to the Canadian electricity grid.

More on the company.

Celtic Renewables

Fuels from Whisky, that’s the headline for Celtic, which has already proved the concept of producing biobutanol from draff in partnership with the Tullibardine distillery– the sugar-rich kernels of barley which are soaked in water to facilitate the fermentation process necessary for whisky production – and pot ale, the yeasty liquid that is heated during distillation.


What’s the technology? Celtic Renewables, in partnership with the Ghent-based BioBase Europe Pilot Plant (BBEPP), produced the first samples of bio-butanol from waste using a process called the Acetone-Butanol-Ethanol (ABE) fermentation in earely 2015. The ABE fermentation was first developed in the UK a century ago, but died out in competition with the petrochemical industry. However bio-butanol is now recognised as an advanced biofuel – a direct replacement for petrol – and the Scottish company is seeking to reintroduce the process to Europe for the first time since the 1960s, using the millions of tonnes of annual whisky production residues as their unique raw material.

Progress and next steps In March, we reported that Celtic Renewables received £500K in a new round of investment, taking its valuation to GBP10million. It follows the unveiling earlier this month of the first samples of bio-butanol from the by-products of whisky fermentation using a process developed by Celtic Renewables scientists.

The company, a pioneer in an industry it estimates could be worth £100 million to the UK economy, hopes to build its first demonstration facility at the Grangemouth petrochemical plant by 2018. Company owners estimated it could be the market leader in an industry worth more than £100 million to the UK economy.

The company has announced investment worth £250K from the Scottish Investment Bank. The investment arm of Scottish enterprise, with a further £250K equity stake acquired by an existing private investor. The cash boost was announced at a reception in Edinburgh by Professor Martin Tangney, the founder and President of Celtic Renewables and Paul Lewis, Managing Director of Operations at Scottish Enterprise.

Celtic Renewables won the top motor industry sustainability award for their technology, which produces biobutanol from whisky byproducts. The company received the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership’s Low Carbon Champion award in September 2014, the 2012 “Best Innovation” award at the Scottish Green Energy Awards. while founder Martin Tangney was named 2012 Innovator of the Year by the Institute of Chemical Engineering at the IChemE Awards.

More on the company.

Nova Pangaea Technologies

Competitive with crude at $39/barrel? That’s the headline for Nova Pangaea Technologies’ process converting forestry waste and other lignocellulosic materials into fuel precursors and platform chemicals.

As the company notes, “The only significant alternative source for liquid transportation fuels and organic chemicals is biomass, such as lignocellulosic biomass, and considerable effort has been expended over many decades to produce efficient and economic processes for the conversion of biomass into such fuels and chemicals.

Nova says, “the processes developed to date can be generally described as thermochemical treatment of whole biomass. The other category includes physical and chemical pre-treatments of whole biomass.” So, here’s one of the few technologies aimed at fractionation — something that Renmatix does as part of its cellulosic sugar-producing technology and something that Cool Planet discussed with respect to its technology.

What’s the technology? As Nova describes it in US Patent 8,657,960,  it’s a multi-step, thermochemical fractionation process for lignocellulosic material. fully fractionates biomass in order to produce C-5 and C-6 sugars of industrial purity, in large scale volumes at competitive prices, so that the fuels and chemical sectors have a realistic replacement for crude oil and gas based intermediates. The company describes its five steps as:

a) feeding the biomass into a devolatilization reactor to explode cells of the biomass and to remove volatile components of the biomass;
b) after devolatilization and explosion of the biomass cells, feeding the biomass into a hemicellulose hydrolysis reactor to separate and hydrolyze hemicellulose;
c) separating the biomass into a first solid component and a liquid component, wherein the liquid component includes hydrolyzed hemicellulose in water or solvent and wherein the solid component includes cellulose and lignin and has less than about 10% hemicellulose;
d) feeding the solid component into a cellulose hydrolysis reactor comprising a continuous superheated steam reactor to hydrolyze and vaporize the cellulose component;
e) condensing the hydrolyzed and vaporized cellulose wherein the biomass flows continuously through each of steps a through e.

Progress to date? The company highlights that “IRRs of over 40% will be achievable at the medium term target scale of 200 tonnes (green) biomass per hour.,” and tipped last year that “Construction of a 1 tonne/hour (green) demonstration plant” was planned for 2015 at the Wilton chemical complex on Teesside, UK. A development that hasn’t yet materialized but the UK Department of Transportation grant will doubtless accelerate. The company has been constructing, meanwhile, a 10-15 kilogram-scale pilot-scale version of its in-line process.

Last year, NPT received a full process patent from the US, some 4 years after the initial preliminary application. The remaining applications covering 71 countries are also 4 years old. Management expect the EU application to be granted in 2015. And, the company achieved a GHG saving of 97.6% compared to baseline gasoline.

The company is a member of the Bio-Based Industries Consortium and spent a significant amount of time preparing and submitting a grant proposal for the EU’s BBI – Joint Undertaking (BBI VC1.D2 – 2014: ‘Chemical building blocks and value-added materials through integrated processing of wood’.)

More on the company.

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