Alpena Prototype Biorefinery, United States of America

The Alpena Prototype Biorefinery (APB) is a pilot demonstration facility being developed in Alpena in Michigan, US. It is being built next to Decorative Panels International's (DPI) board manufacturing mill in Alpena. An investment of $23.5m is being made in the project.

The new facility will convert woody biomass produced at the mill to generate 890,000 gallons of cellulosic ethanol and 690,000 gallons of potassium acetate. It will use the GreenPower technology developed by American Process.

"In April 2011, Cobalt Technologies formed a partnership with American Process to develop the APB."

The APB was originally planned to be jointly developed by American Process and Valero Energy Corporation. The latter, however, pulled out of the project in 2011. In April 2011, Cobalt Technologies formed a partnership with American Process to develop the APB.

Cobalt Technologies will provide its fermentation and distillation technology which will enable the APB to generate 470,000 gallons of biobutanol. The partnership also includes construction of a new facility to generate biobutanol. American Process and Cobalt Technologies will jointly market the biobutanol technology to customers across the world.

Construction of the plant commenced in March 2011 and is expected to be completed by early 2012. The facility is expected to generate ten new direct jobs.

The APB will help in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, generate new jobs and also retain the existing jobs. It will also be an important move towards the development of alternative fuels to achieve energy independence.

Based on the success of the APB, an expansion of the facility may be taken up in 2012. Development of commercial demonstration plants similar to the APB are planned beyond 2012.

Design and construction of the Alpena prototype biorefinery

The new facility is being constructed on a 28.6 acre site adjacent to DPI's board manufacturing plant. It will include various facilities for feedstock pre-treatment or hydrolysis, fermentation, evaporation, distillation and dehydration, potassium acetate production and membrane separation.

The APB will also include facilities for handling spent material and wastewater. Product storage and shipment facilities, a control room, laboratory and other utilities are also part of the facility.

Process technology incorporated into the Michigan-based APB

American Process' GreenPower technology includes three steps. The first step is hemicelluloses extraction wherein steam from the woody biomass is extracted. The biomass is then washed and pressed to produce hemicelluloses sugars.

"The Alpena Prototype Biorefinery (APB) is a pilot demonstration facility being developed in Alpena in Michigan, US."

Hydrolysis is the second step, where the hemicelluloses sugars are hydrolysed with acid, neutralised with lime and impurities such as lignin are removed. The third step of the process includes sugar production wherein the hemicelluloses sugars are fermented, distilled and purified to produce ethanol.

Ethanol produced using this process is denatured with gasoline and stored before being transported offsite. Cobalt's biobutanol technology will be used during the sugar production step to produce biobutanol, which is an important industrial chemical. Biobutanol is used in paints and coatings.

The acetic acid derivatives produced during sugar production are separated and passed through reverse osmosis to produce potassium acetate and clean water.

Potassium acetate produced during this stage can be used as a de-icer for roads and runways and also as an additive in fire extinguishers, medicine and food.

Biomass such as organic by-products, yeast and lignin, which cannot be fermented, are returned to the boiler after the extraction process to produce steam or electricity. The process, therefore, ensures a theoretical ethanol conversion rate of 100%.

Feedstock and financing of the $23.5m pilot demonstration facility

Feedstock for the biorefinery will be the wastewater containing woody biomass produced during DPI's manufacturing process. The water is currently being treated in a wastewater treatment plant at the mill.

Treated water is released into a nearby lake. The APB will reduce the amount of wastewater released into the lake by the mill.

In December 2009, the Department of Energy awarded an $18m stimulus grant for construction of the plant.

The project also received a $4m grant from the state in November 2008 as it has been designated as a Michigan Center of Energy Excellence.

Contractors involved in the Alpena prototype biorefinery

American Process is responsible for engineering of the facility. Construction is being handled by DeVere Construction.

Start-up and commissioning will be also be handled by American Process. The plant will be operated by APER, a subsidiary of American Process.

Feyen Zylstra has been contracted to provide electrical services for the facility.