GeoSynFuels purchases, retrofits idle demonstration plant

By Erin Voegele | April 04, 2014

Golden, Colo.-based GeoSynFuels LLC has acquired the cellulosic demonstration facility formerly owned and operated by Blue Sugars Corp., the parent company of Western Biomass Energy LLC. GSF plans to retrofit the plant to use its proprietary 5CS Technology.

The Upton, Wyo.-based demonstration plant was offered for sale at auction in May 2013, after Western Biomass Energy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October 2012 and Blue Sugars filed a voluntary Chapter 7 petition on May 10. Western Biomass Energy’s filing was eventually converted to Chapter 7 as well. 

Todd Harvey, president and CEO of GSF, explains his company was the winning bidder at last year’s auction. After several months of legal delays, the demonstration plant property eventually was foreclosed upon, with the bank selling the facility directly to GSF. Harvey said that deal was recently signed.

“The acquisition of the demonstration facility is an important step forward in the commercialization of our cellulosic ethanol technology. This acquisition was challenging but worth the effort given the strategic advantages this plant provides GeoSynFuels. We are very excited about entering this next stage of our technology development,” Harvey said.

According to Harvey, his company plans to leave the facility in place in Upton. “We are going to retrofit it and get it back up and running,” he said. The facility has been shuttered for approximately a year he said, explaining that some parts of the plant were shut down better than others. There is some damage that needs to be repaired, such as freeze damage to some pipes.

The demonstration plant was originally constructed in 2007 for the enzymatic conversion of wood feedstocks into ethanol. The plant can process up to 50 tons of biomass per day. In 2011, the facility was converted to enable the processing of sugarcane bagasse.

Unlike many cellulosic technologies that target both five-carbon and six-carbon sugars, GSF’s proprietary process targets only five-carbon sugars. “We only extract some of the sugar,” he explained. “Biomass is typically made up of two types of carbohydrates; heavy cellulose, the five-carbon sugars, and cellulose, the six-carbon sugars. The lignin is the other piece.”

Most cellulosic technologies convert both the five-carbon and six-carbon sugars into fuel, leaving behind the lignin for either disposal or combustion. “We only take the five-carbon sugars, and we leave the cellulose and lignin available for either combustion or for use as an alternative product,” Harvey said. The resulting six-carbon, lignin blend has a much higher energy component for combustion. “We leave 85 percent of the biomass as available energy for combustion, which is important for integrating with sugar mills that burn residue for heat and electricity generation,” he said.

The 5CS Technology is designed to be a bolt-on solution for operations with existing biomass combustion facilities, such as sugar mills, pulp mills and biomass energy facilities. Harvey noted that GSF is not currently targeting existing corn-ethanol plants as implementers of the bolt-on process. Rather, the technology is currently most economically appropriate for operations that already aggregate and process cellulosic biomass, particularly those that have combined-heat-and-power (CHP) operations onsite. Some feedstocks targeted by the company include woody biomass, bagasse, and eucalyptus. Testing has also been completed on other feedstocks, including wheat straw, rice straw, and municipal solid waste.

GSF began testing its process at the pilot scale in 2011 at a 10-ton-per-day facility. The newly purchased demonstration facility is expected to be operational in mid- to late-summer.