Cellulosic Ethanol technology - Ongoing Research and Novel Pathways

In April 2015, Leaf Resources Ltd, Australia, launched Hybritech technology, based on it's Glycell pre-treatment process. Hybritch allows paper and pulp facilities to switch between pulp production and the production of cellulosic sugars, and is particularly suited to plants using the KRAFT process.

Xylome offers unconventional yeasts that can produce second generation ethanol (as well as biodiesel precursors) from cellulosic feedstocks. The company also modifies a range of unconventional yeasts for biosynthesis of advanced products. Unconventional yeasts have metabolic capabilities that go well beyond Saccharomyces in substrate utilization and product formation profiles (for example, those that are naturally able to ferment xylose and cellobiose).

Oklahoma State University Biobased Products and Energy Center (BioPEC) is developing hyprid gasification / fermentation pathways for production of ethanol, which it claims significantly lower the production cost of CE.

BE-Basic is developing a unique multi-purpose Bioprocess Pilot Facility BPF at Delft in the Netherlands, where companies, universities and knowledge institutions can investigate and learn how sustainable production processes respond to larger scales and how they can be scaled up. In January 2014 BPF announced it would be installing a prehydolysis system from Valmet.

In January 2014, French company Deinove announced the successful production of 9% ethanol from lignocellulosic feedstocks using Deinococcus bacteria in medium-sized (300 litre) bioreactors. The company now plans to develop the technology at industrial scale. The technology was developed through the Deinol project, which involved CNRS Montpellier and INSA Toulouse and the Tereos group (via its SYRAL and BENP Lillebonne subsidiaries). The Deinol project received €8.9m from the Strategic Industrial Innovation programme run by Oséo, the French state innovation agency. In November 2014, it was announced that Deinove had formed a partnership with Michigan State University to use its AFEX (ammonia-based pre-treatment) in production of cellulosic ethanol.

In February 2014, Aphios was granted US patents for its cellulosic biomass pretreatment method based on the Aosic process, in which "biomass is contacted with super fluids such as carbon dioxide with or without small quantities of polar cosolvents such as ethanol, both sourced from the downstream fermentation process. Pressure is released and fibers are made more accessible to enzymes as a result of expansive forces of super fluids (about 10 times those of steam explosion) and carbonic acid hydrolysis."

In February 2014, Leaf Energy (now Leaf Resouces Ltd), Australia, announced a succesful trial of Glycell Pretreatment Process, at the Andritz pilot plant, Springfield, Ohio. At that time, Leaf Energy was also working with Actinogen Ltd to exploit strains of Actinomycetes relevant to its technology. In 2016 Leaf Resources Ltd was collaborating with Claeris, ZeaChem, Monaghan Biosciences (part of the Monaghan Mushroom Group) and Norske Skog.

Researchers at North Carolina State University are developing the use of protic ionic liquids, PILs, as a less-expensive method to remove lignin from cellulosic biomass.

In August 2013, US DOE Joint BioEnergy Institute announced the development of a 'one-pot' process for the ionic liquid pretreatment and saccharification of switchgrass.

Consolidated bioporcessing aims to simplify biofuel production pathways by integrating the steps of pre-treatment, hydrolysis and fermentation as far as possible. Companies working in this technology include Mascoma and Qteros.

The Qteros CBP platform leverages the natural advantages of the Q Microbe®, which produces virtually all the enzymes required to digest biomass into fermentable sugars and contains all pathways required for biomass conversion into ethanol. The result is a single-step conversion process that dramatically reduces the cost and complexity of producing cellulosic ethanol at commercial scale from a broad variety of non-food feedstocks [Source: Qteros].

Researchers at the University of Illinois have investigated the use of "switchable" butadiene sulfone in the presence of water as a potential pretreatment method to break down the cell wall in Miscanthus, and remove the lignin component. Subsequent recovery of the decomposition gases, reduces cost and environmental impact.

OSE0 (Strategic Industrial Innovation Programme), France awarded €8.9m to the €21.4m DEINOL project, which aims by 2014 to open up new pathways for lignocellulosic ethanol production in existing industrial installations, without the need for large additional capex. The OSEO award included Euro €6m to Deinove for the accelerated development of new biofuels production processes based on the bacteria Deinococcus. The other partners include CPBS (CNRS/University of Montpellier) and LISBP (INSA Toulose/CNRS/INRA),

Green Tech America is developing cellulosic ethanol technology using novel strains of yeast. The process is based on research by Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering (LORRE), Purdue University, which developed GM yeasts in the 1990s to convert glucose and xylose to ethanol.

In Austria, M-Real Hallein AG is developing a concept to produce bioethanol from wood sugars derived from sulfite spent liquor (SSL), a by-product of paper and pulp production.

In November 2009, Delft University published research on GM strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae that have been engineered for use of acetic acid as an electron acceptor. The pathway would provide three major benefits for production of ethanol from lignocellulosic materials: elimination of glycerol, reduction of toxic acetic acid to ethanol, and increased ethanol yields. A patent was applied for and industrial partners were being sought to further investigate the potential of the process.