Biofine Process Overview
The Biofine process is owned by Biofine Technology, LLC, of Framingham, Massachusetts, a biorefinery process technology company. The patented technology creates an advanced cellulosic biofuel and platform chemicals.
The Biofine process is an acid-hydrolysis process for the conversion of cellulose to levulinic acid, a platform chemical with dozens of known potential uses.
- Biofine is a simple thermochemical process – allowing conversion of cellulose from a wide variety of sources.
- Biofine is an acid hydrolysis process – water content up to 50% in the feedstock is not a drag on system economics.
- No fermentation tanks are required – resulting in lower capital costs and a smaller physical footprint.
- No specially designed “bugs” are required – lowering operating costs and reducing risks from contamination and biological entropy.
Process and Products:
The Biofine process works by “cracking” any lignocellulosic feedstock under the influence of dilute mineral acid and moderate temperature, with a novel dual reactor design that allows high throughput and high yields.
- The cellulose fraction is broken down to form levulinic acid and a formic acid co-product.
- The hemicellulose fraction is cracked to furfural, which can be delivered as a product, or upgraded to levulinic acid.
- Lignin, along with some degraded cellulose and hemicellulose and any inerts, comes out of the process as a carbon-rich char mixture which is combusted to produce power for the process and for export.
Each of these primary products become platform chemicals from which other valuable products can be produced.
Using only heat and pressure in a carefully controlled chemical environment, the Biofine conversion avoids the many challenges facing other biomass conversion technologies.
Gasification processes that convert the biomass into a gas and then catalyze the gas into liquid fuels can be hindered by the high natural variability in biomass.
Biological conversion faces the challenge of creating ‘bugs’ which can digest and withstand the variety of naturally occurring feedstocks and contaminants.
One of the greatest strengths of this process in the marketplace of biomass conversion technologies is its feedstock flexibility. Any input with sufficient cellulose and without excess ash is a potential feedstock – including low-value forest residues, whole tree chips, agricultural residues, food wastes, recycled paper, even sorted municipal solid waste.
Variety and Versatility
The Biofine process converts each fraction of naturally occuring lignocellulosic biomass and chemically converts these components to molecules of higher commercial value.
Other compounds introduced into the process are simply carried through the process in the ‘char’ to be filtered out or combusted for power.
This is all achieved without separating – ‘pre-fractionating’ – the biomass into its constituent compounds.
The net result is we are able to draw from across the broad diversity of recurring and renewable cellulosic feedstocks. Among these:
- Logging and forest residues
- Urban wood residues
- Wood processing residues (bark and sawdust)
- Fuel crops
- switch grass
- hybrid poplar
- Agricultural crop residues
- corn stover
- sugar cane bagasse
- MRFed municipal solid waste
- Food wastes
- Waste paper (non-recyclable)
- Reclaimed paper
- Algae and seaweed crops
Levulinic Acid Platform
In August 2004, a US Department of Energy report identified levulinic acid as one of the “Top Value Added Chemicals From Biomass” on the basis of the feasibility of production, the general utility of the molecule, and its ability to build and transform the marketplace with new families of useful molecules.
Levulinic acid is a highly versatile ‘platform chemical’ that can be converted into a broad variety of value-added fuels and chemicals.
Used for years in food, fragrance, and specialty chemical applications, levulinic acid is a non-toxic chemical precursor for cleaner-burning fuels. Derivatives can also be used to produce a number of exciting products from polycarbonate resins to biodegradable plastics to high-volume biodegradable herbicides.
In the long run, the markets in these advanced chemical compounds will grow, permitting us to supplant fossil fuel-derived products with chemicals that are not only more environmentally friendly to produce. but better for the environment.
In the near term, however, the dictates of financing and economies of scale induce us to focus early efforts on bulk fuels markets.
These levulinate fuels – esters using ethanol, methanol. butanol, or mixed alcohols – are certified viable additives for gasoline and diesel transportation fuels, and are being tested for certification as diesel equivalent heating oils. In addition to greater carbon neutraility, levulinate fuel mixtures burn cleaner than pure hydrocarbon products.
Levulinates have many advantageous properties. They are non-toxic. (Ethyl levulinate is an FDA approved food additive, and is common in perfumes an candles, and levulinic acid is used in approved skin cancer treatments.) Levulinates have greater miscibility with petrochemical fuels than either soy diesel or ethanol. Thus, unlike ethanol, mixtures of levulinate and gasoline can be pipelined instead of having to be splash blended at the pump. Moreover, levulinates have lower cloudpoint and a lower gelpoint than biodiesel, resulting in better general cold flow properties.
No other biofuel has been so extensively tested, including more than 300,000 miles of trials in both gasoline and diesel automobiles. EL also reduces soot, offers higher mpg than ethanol, and exceeds ASTM D-975 diesel standards.
Strategically, esters of levulinic acid are an excellent way to extend the existing bio-alcohol supplies. Because these alcohols are used in the production of levulinate fuels, levulinic acid will be a natural complement, rather than a competitor, to cellulosic ethanol efforts
Fuels made from the Biofine Process are expected to compete with petroleum, without subsidy or carbon credits, at +/-$60/ barrel.
In addition to the levulinic acid platform, the Biofine process produces several valuable co-products. These products bring market diversity to project development, and can be optimized and altered for maximum profit potential.
Formic acid is a well-known commodity chemical with existing large volume uses in the manufacture of rubber, plasticizers, pharmaceuticals and textiles. In Europe, formic acid is a common preservative for grass silage. The existing world market – in excess of 450,000 tons per year – does not include new and growing uses in non-corrosive road de-icing agents and as a NOx reducing catalyst in automobile exhaust systems. Formic Acid is also a major component in fuel cells.
Furfural is used primarily in the manufacture of furan resins, lubricating oils and textiles for leisure wear, with an established world market in excess of 250,000 tons per year. The furfural stream of the Biofine process can be maximized or eliminated as market prices dictate allowing another partial fuels market hedge for a Biofine facility.
A carbon rich ligneous char – composed of over 60% carbon – is produced during the process. Depending upon the feedstock and run conditions, the raw energy content ranges between 7,500-11,000 BTU/lb. Sufficient energy is concentrated in the char to provide both the steam and electric power needs of the process with the potential to produce excess electric power for sale. This material is being tested as a potential soil conditioner, and has potential as a lignin source for use in the manufacture of carbon fiber.