February 1, 2007

SunOpta goes global with steam explosion biomass pre-treatment

Abengoa's Spanish facility for converting cereal straw to ethanol.

SunOpta Inc. is leading the development and commercial deployment of cellulosic feedstock pre-treatment for the production of ethanol. Their steam explosion technology will help developers preprocess cellulosic biomass feedstock of various kinds to produce ethanol.

The globally diverse projects involve diverse feedstock - woodchips (in Japan and Canada), corn stover (in China), sugar cane bagasse (in Louisiana, U.S.A.), and wheat straw (in Spain).

SunOpta’s Staketech Division is a world leader in the preparation, pretreatment, steam explosion and extraction of value added compounds from plant biomass material. In steam explosion, biomass fiber are exposed to a high pressure steam (typically 200-450 psig) for 1 to 10 minutes. The resulting product is then explosively discharged to an atmospheric pressure.

Batch steam explosion processing is almost 75-years-old. Batch processing, however, had some limitations, and was difficult to optimize. One of SunOpta’s breakthroughs was the development of a continuous steam explosion process that supports a higher processing temperature and reduces the residence time. The process greatly reduces and in many cases eliminates the chemicals associated with current industrial practice, according to the company. - Green Car Congress

They have also announced a deal with China Resources Alcohol Corporation to help them produce cellulosic ethanol in large quantites from corn stover:

Sunopta Updates Current Cellulosic Ethanol Projects

China Resources Alcohol Corporation (CRAC)

CRAC has announced their intention to construct sufficient cellulosic ethanol facilities to generate 330 million gallons of ethanol by 2012. SunOpta provided its patented systems and technology to CRAC in September 2006 and the plant began production of ethanol from local corn stover in October 2006. This facility is reported to be the first cellulosic ethanol production facility operational in the People's Republic of China. The SunOpta system is currently operating on a continuous basis and steps are currently being taken to scale the SunOpta process up to full commercial levels for use in future plants in China.

China has committed $5 billion to cellulosic ethanol production and recently announced that they would allow no further increase in ethanol production from starch (corn), due to the needs for starch as food. China's announcement illustrates the "Food vs. Fuel" issue, which continues to be a key driver for cellulosic ethanol worldwide, together with concerns regarding the impact of the world's "addiction to oil" on the environment and energy security.

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