Ineos Bio plant in Florida to utilize cell separation technology

By Holly Jessen | April 13, 2011

The Indian River BioEnergy Center ethanol plant under construction near Vero Beach, Fla., will utilize a solids separation system developed by SmartFlow Technologies, which results in a high concentrate of cells and proteins as well as 100 percent pure ethanol and water. “The renewables fuels market is challenged with solids separation issues for which SmartFlow’s unique, patented separations technology is exceptionally well-suited,” said Kim Davis, chairman and CEO of SmartFlow. “Ineos Bio recognized SmartFlow’s distinctive abilities to separate substances previously thought to be inseparable and to concentrate them to very high levels.”

Ineos Bio and its joint venture partner, New Planet Energy, are constructing an 8 MMgy cellulosic ethanol plant with plans to start producing ethanol in mid-2012. The BioEnergy Center will utilize yard, vegetative and household wastes as a feedstock and will also produce six megawatts of renewable power with the same feedstocks plus wood waste and MSW. The $130 million project received a conditional commitment for a $75 million federal loan guarantee in January.

This is SmartFlow’s first contract to work on a commercial-scale project. However, the Apex, N.C., company’s technology is in use by various customers in labs and pilot plants, the locations and names of which Davis was unable to give due to non-disclosure agreements. “I can tell you that we’re doing work and trials within corn ethanol plants, within a number of cellulosic ethanol plants, some cellulosic biochemical plants and cellulosic butanol plants,” he said.

Rather than using a centrifuge, which uses gravity for cell concentration, the SmartFlow system uses a physical barrier in the membrane to separate solids from ethanol and water, said Jim Kacmar, the company’s director of technical support and applications development team. This results in a thicker, more concentrated solids and reduced waste streams. “For example, soluble proteins, and other soluble components, that are larger than our filter, we’ll still remove them, while a centrifuge wouldn’t,” he said. “And that results in a much cleaner effluent stream, or permeate stream, coming out of our device than you would get from a centrifuge.”

A centrifuge typically concentrates solids to 50 percent while SmartFlow’s technology can concentrate cell solids to 70 percent or higher wet cell weight. “This results in an additional 5 percent yield of permeate,” Davis said. “This decreases the weight of waste streams, can increase fuel recovery, and helps with the water balance for the plant.”

The Florida plant will use SmartFlow’s technology for one use—separating solids from ethanol and water. However, the company is finding there are many other potential uses for its technology. “We’re finding opportunities that there may be multiple points in our process that our technology can be applied so we can potentially consolidate or eliminate some steps in the existing process,” he said.