Michigan company patents AFEX technology

By Ann Bailey | September 16, 2015

MBI, a Lansing, Michigan, biotech company has received an innovative biomass pretreatment patent for its Ammonia Fiber Expansion technology.  

The AFEX technology, together with natural processes, unlocks sugar in the biomass left behind in harvested corn, wheat and rice fields and converts it into material that can be made into a source of cattle feed or feedstock for cellulosic biofuels and chemicals.

The technology, conceived at MBI in 2010, is innovative and has potential to expand, in a sustainable way, the capacity to supply the feed and ethanol industries, said Tim Campbell, MBI project manager and AFEX process engineer.

“It appears the ability to produce ethanol from cellulosic biomass has been dealt with to a good amount,” said Jim Wynn, MBI director of biobased derisking. The challenge is how to efficiently supply the biorefineries with cellulosic feedstock matrerials at commercial scale, he said,

“When you harvest a ton of corn, you make a ton of corn stover. There is a lot of biomass available, but how do you make it into a form that can be utilized?” Wynn asked.

MBI believes that AFEX technology will allow the ethanol plants to increase capacity by placing AFEX depots relatively near corn, rice or wheat fields. The depots, using the AFEX, technology, will turn the biomass into a form, such as pellets, that can be transported to them economically.

“We really believe this can help unlock the scale impact for the second-generation ethanol plants,” Wynn said. Now, second-generation plants have a name plate capacity of about 20 to 25 MMGY, using about 800 tons of biomass per day, Wynn noted, but the AFEX technology has the potential to increase that to more than 100 MMG,Y using about 5,000 tons per day.

MBI has produced a total of more than 500 batches of pre-treated biomass at its Lansing pilot plant. The goal of the company is to take the project to a commercial scale, Wynn said.  MBI is seeking partners for that project and has received a lot of interest, he said.

“This technology is not only good for ethanol, it is good for any second-generation biobased chemicals.”