Abengoa: Jack of All Trades

12 11 2011

Abengoa Bioenergy‘s new 23 million-gallon refinery will take biomass feedstocks, such as switchgrass, and generate ethanol for the production of homegrown fuel.  Having already successfully test-driven pilot plants of the same technology, Abengoa is working to extract more useful material from grain and cereal tailings in the form of residual starch.  These residual starches are generally 5% of the entire starch levels in cereals and grains and can be as high as 10%, according to Abengoa Bioenergy.

So, what does this mean for the biofuel/ethanol industry?  More extractable starch = more ethanol.  Abengoa estimates theoretically one could obtain 3.2 gallons of ethanol per bushel of corn.  However, through efficiency losses in the starch extraction processes of current ethanol facilities, the common producer gets 2.6 gallons on average.  With Abengoa’s new technology, we could see this average raise to 2.9 gallons per bushel.  That is about a 10% gain.

Abengoa is also advancing in the study of ethanol co-products.  Primarily, distillers dry grains and solubles or DDGS are of hot topic in the industry.  At the moment, DDGS are mostly given to rumenoids because of their high vegetable content, but Abengoa is working to supplement these co-products and create feeds that are more suitable for poultry and pork stock.  This is done by concentrating the proteins in the DDGS.  This means less waste will come from the ethanol production process, and more money is to be made.

Switchgrass, bioenergy, Abegonea, cellulosic ethanol(Photo)

Lastly, but not least, as if Abengoa didn’t have all of the bases covered already, they are also improving the efficiency of cellulosic ethanol production.  Cellulose, by nature, is much harder to break down than starch and requires the addition of special enzymes in the processing phase.  These enzymes are expensive to create and relatively large doses are needed to bread down the cellulose.  Abengoa is currently studying to increase the effectiveness of these enzymes while driving the cost to produce them down as well.  In other words, a smaller dose will have the same impact as a current dose and will cost less to make.

Quick recap: Abengoa sounds like the Westinghouse of ethanol.  They didn’t start it, but they are sure bringing the best out in it (ethanol in Abengoa’s case, electricity in Westinghouse’s).  They are increasing ethanol yields per bushel by unlocking residual starches; they are expanding the usefulness of DDGS as a feedstock not only for cattle but for pigs and chickens; and they are increasing the efficiency of breaking down cellulose so it can be used to make more ethanol.

Bravo, Abengoa! Bravo!  You get two cobs up!

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One response

13 11 2011
Susan

Nice comment! I enjoy reading your opinions…

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