Monday, May 19, 2014

Bionic µfuel technology unlocks potential of Lignin

As early as 2009 experiments have been conducted using pure lignin as a sample feedstock for Bionic's µfuel technology. A detailed report about the laboratory level tests has been published by a scientific partner, Erik Karlsen, in a Danish chemical journal. An English translation can be downloaded from Bionic servers: "From Lignin to Oil by Microwaves".

The central finding from the above report: the studied liquid product phase consisted of more than 85% phenols and still more than 75% methoxy phenols. This result suggests a significantly more homogeneous liquid phase from the Bionic µfuel process than reported so far in any other available paper on Lignin treatment with various (catalytic) pyrolysis methods. Commonly extremely heterogeneous combinations of complex aromatic molecules are found where good yields of highly homogeneous chemical substances are necessary for further conversion or processing into the final lignin derived building blocks which can economically serve as the raw material for future bioplastics like novel polyesters.

The Bionic µfuel Laboratory Reactor used for Lignin testing

The conversion of Lignin into higher value products is the primary challenge for the global cellulose and wood processing industries. Lignin alone makes up a share of 25-30 wt.% of all processed dry wood for cellulose and hemicellulose pulp extraction which is later used for paper, fiber and bioethanol production.

A lot more about the composition and properties of wood can be found at the excellent Pulp & Paper Resource & Information Site.

Despite billions of R&D money spent to date convincing pathways for lignin upgrading have yet to be identified. Scientific work usually labels the pyrolysis of lignin as highly promising for the building blocks of a future biochemical industry, but no true break throughs for commercial application are reported. Thus, enormous quantities of high quality lignin, estimated at more than 50M tons/year are still seen as a waste product and used primarily as a solid fuel for conventional industrial boilers.

A Frost & Sullivan study focusing on the commercial potential of lignin predicts it will become the most important natural aromatic raw material for future biochemicals with a combined market potential of more than USD 130 Billion at current market conditions.

Being the only natural and renewable source of aromatic compounds, lignin is one of the three major components of plant cell walls which together make up 90% of the cells biomass. Possible sources are wood, wheat and rice straw and grasses.

Currently Bionic is embarking on an extensive test program with major industry players to transform the promising lab results into a successful industrial application using the Bionic µfuel range of microwave conversion reactors.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Bionic µfuel modular design proves advantageous

mf480 reactor details

Bionic µfuel reactor and plant designs have come a long way over the recent 10 years of intense R&D work in the development labs. Starting from the drawing board and moving on to CAD workstations, performing endless process simulations in the technology lab and later on the first continuous pilot, all the way to the current mf60 prototype plants many details where refined and fine tuned literally thousands of times. During all that time, however, one fundamental cornerstone of Bionic's design principles was never questioned: the extremely modular design utilizing only the most tested, most proven assembly parts and modules available preferably off the shelf. This principle effectively differentiates Bionic's µfuel technology from practically all comparable technology designs out there.

For many years the huge advantages of such a design approach for on time project delivery, operational stability, easy scaling of plant size and ultimately capital and operational expenditure could only be explained theoretically.

This has changed with the recent mf60 commercial demonstrator now in prototype testing for something over 7 months, preparing for a first continuous 250 hour run coming up around the corner. We finally have plenty of hard evidence supporting the mantra of stubbornly insisting on uncompromising modularity. During the prototype testing period dozens of small changes and adjustments have been incorporated, often completed in a few hours. And even the major mf60 redesign described in this article required a suspension of test operations for barely 3 weeks.

Following the Bionic scaling philosophy the mf60 is nothing else than a down-scaled mf480, the latter being the bionicfuel reference reactor type for standard commercial plants. However large an individual plant might get, it will be built around clustered sets of always the same mf480 reactor units and the mf480 unit can even be temporarily reduced to around half its specified capacity with a corresponding reduction in microwave units. The consequences of this concept for the early commercial roll out are enormous.

Instead of monolithic, untested conversion plants budgeted at several hundred million USD, Bionic can offer clients a project approach incorporating risk management via a well controlled scale up process. Each reactor can be factory assembled, tested and certified against specifications even before leaving the manufacturer site. After shipping the installation process on site is a matter of weeks before final client acceptance can begin.

A factory and on-site certified single reactor system can then be rapidly upgraded by simply bringing in more of the identical reactor units combining them with standard feedstock preparation and product upgrading equipment.     

Bionic's organic fertilizer and soil enhancer resembles Terra Preta

Many exciting things happened at the Bionic Group over the course of 2013, but one development is clearly standing out: the development of the Bionic Bio-Elite Carbon Plus production system. I have written here before about the Bio-EliteTM organic fertilizer licensed by Bionic Lab in Germany. Now Bionic has made the already excellent product even greater by integrating the Bionic char product directly into the Bio-Elite production process.
The Bionic µsoil production process

The result is a soil improvement product of a fundamentally new quality. Not only an organic replacement for standard synthetic fertilizers, not only a supply for all required micro nutrients, but also a long term activator of healthy top soil development maintaining sufficient levels of carbon for a more natural plant growth. Thus, Bionic has created a contemporary descendant of the supposedly mysterious Terra Preta soil discovered by archaeologists in the Amazon region of Brazil.

While the bionicfuel process delivers a bio-char product with outstanding capabilities, this product is completely sterilized during production. Such a microwave sterilization effectively eliminates any danger of infecting one’s soil with pathogenic micro-organisms. However, it also takes time a lot of time afterwards for the bio-char to be settled again by healthy microbes. Bionic’s new process effectively accelerates such a natural soil fertilization by processing the char with the most effective micro organisms available. Subsequently the highly effective Bio-Elite organic fermentation process integrates the top soil forming char properties with the highly effective plant nutrition capabilities of an advanced organic fertilizer production systems.  The result is Bionic µsoil.

The fermentation process
The fermentation process is almost complete

It takes just 50 days in one of the Bionic licensed fertilizer plants to process the final product beginning to end. A process that would take nature many years to complete unassisted.

Over the recent months Bionic has developed a business model for a franchise system concentrated on the production of its new fully organic soil enhancer. Franchise partners will typically operate their own plant and take care of the acquisition of the raw materials waste biomass and animal manure. Initial interest is specifically high from large commercial scale animal husbandry operations like poultry and pig farms.

All product not used internally in the franchise partner’s own farming operation will be marketed via a joint whole sale sale platform addressing garden centers, hardware stores and municipal gardening departments. An online platform will also be established as an additional sales channel for direct orders by individual commercial and private customers.

In December 2013 a German State Government has taken a preliminary decision to substantially support Bionic’s initial reference plant under an economic development program. Constructed during 2014 in collaboration with Bionic’s prime manufacturer SMERAL as from Brno in the Czech Republic, the plant will later serve for R&D, training and demonstrations within the franchise system.

The advantages of the Bionic µsoil system are many. It is not only a new organic fertilizer of outstanding quality which is completely carbon neutral. It is also a solution to the serious manure problems of animal mass husbandry, the long underestimated health hazards of common biogas plants deriving from dangerously infested residues and the proper disposal of food waste. All these categories of waste become constantly more and more regulated which has heavily increased cost for the affected businesses. Bionic is now effectively offering a way to reverse this development by eliminating the high cost by converting the issue into a profitable business option for new SME businesses.

Innovative organic fertilizer and soil conditioner

Monday, March 3, 2014

More rigorous testing upcoming for the bionicfuel mf60 prototype

Since the switch has been turned for the first time in August 2013 starting up the mf60 commercial demonstrator at the premises of SMERAL in Brno the engineers performed endless test runs while improving and fixing numerous design and engineering details.

Simply put, they where doing exactly what a prototype is meant to be used for: trial, error detection and correction... Preparing a rock solid processing core for serial production that is ready for 24/7 hard core operation when it reaches a production site for installation. Most fixes required just from a couple of hours to a day or two. But eventually in early January 2014 careful review of collected test data resulted in the decision to proceed with a major redesign of the vapor off-take from the main reactor vessel, an effort which would interrupt test operations and scheduled demonstrations for several weeks.

SMERAL engineers did a great job in preparing and implementing the revised design in only 3 weeks. The almost finished result can be seen below:

redesigned mf60 reactor unit
The new design results in a significantly lower height, making the reactor more robust and energy efficient. Durability will be further improved by repositioning the microwave units for optimized cooling.

Once all measures are completed, a continuous test run for a minimum of 10 days is scheduled which will be monitored by an independent certification agency.