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Sustainable non-wood fibre and non-food bioethanol

Chempolis’ biorefining technology – based on its family of formico® processes – offers a profitable and highly sustainable route for making use of non-wood and non-food materials to produce highquality end-products.

Increasing quantities of agricultural residues will be needed to make paper in the future, as insufficient wood is available in the world’s fastest-growing paper markets, forest resources are declining, and growing environmental pressures are being put on the use of wood.

Residual non-wood materials such as straw, bagasse, and reeds, on the other hand, are widely available in large volumes in countries like China and India, and are inexpensive. More than 5 billion tonnes of these agricultural residues are generated annually, which is more than 10 times the amount of wood used annually by the world’s pulp and paper industry.

Chempolis’ formico® technology makes it possible to put a variety of non-wood and non-food agricultural residues to work in local integrated mills with a very low energy and water usage footprint.

A family of technologies

The new technologies developed and now being licensed by Chempolis are designed to address this resource challenge and offer an environmentally friendly way of producing pulp, biofuels, and biochemicals based on non-wood and non-food inputs.

Designed for producing high-quality pulp for paper and board, packaging, and hygiene products, Chempolis’ formicofib™ process offers better chemistry than current technologies, is simpler, and also requires lower levels of chemical and raw water inputs. This makes for a highly streamlined cost structure. As the process helps preserve forest resources and does not generate net carbon dioxide emissions, it is also very sustainable.

Formic acid is the key chemical in the biosolvent used in this and other formico® processes. The acidic environment this creates prevents silicates from dissolving, and makes it possible to completely recover chemicals, dissolved solids, and water. Recovered dissolved solids can be combusted, generating sufficient energy to cover the needs of the process.

To avoid creating new problems by using food crops as raw materials, the only long-term way forward for biofuels, believes Chempolis, is to use non-food feedstocks, such as agricultural residues and dedicated energy crops cultivated on marginal land.

formicobio™ has been designed as a thirdgeneration technology for manufacturing highgrade biofuels, particularly bioethanol, from the same types of raw materials. Thanks to its simple but advanced chemistry, formicobio™ avoids the main problems associated with other technologies developed for non-food raw materials.

The third member of the formico® family is the formicochem™ process, which can be added to a formico® biorefinery to enable the coproduction of bioacetic acid, furfural, and lignin.

In addition to being the main component of vinegar, acetic acid is used as a raw material in producing paints, adhesives, and plastics; while furfural, a trace compound found in brandy and bread, is used industrially as a solvent and a raw material for resins.

Delivering sustainable results

Chempolis’ family of formico® technologies offer multiple advantages in terms of their energy, water, and material usage:

  • Self-sufficient in energy and CO2-neutral
  • Minimal water requirement and below that of competing technologies
  • Uses residues that are generated as part of food production and eliminates the need to harvest timber and deplete forest resources
  • No harmful substances, such as AOX or sulphur compounds, are used in formico® processes
  • All process chemicals and water are recycled
  • No effluents are produced
  • End-products are recyclable and biodegradable.

Third-generation biorefinery

Chempolis operates a third-generation biorefinery in Finland based on its technology for converting various types of biomass into value-added products, such as fibre for papermaking, biofuels, and biochemicals.

Run on inputs such as straw, bagasse, and other agricultural residues, the facility can give customers a first-hand look at Chempolis’ stateof-the-art technology and demonstrate selective fractionation of customer-sourced biomass on an industrial scale.

The facility can produce a high level of output for testing product properties, such as fibre for trials on high-speed paper machines, and detailed data for dimensioning the machinery and systems needed for full-scale industrial biorefineries.

Moving ahead in China

Chempolis has two strategic technology partnerships in China in the non-wood and non-food biorefining area: with the country’s leading supplier of pulping equipment technology, the Hangzhou Project & Research Institute of Electromechanics in Light Industry; and the Chinese leader in distillation technology and equipment, China Beiyang Chemical Equipment of Tianjin University Co., Ltd. (PACTU).

Chempolis has also licensed its technology to UPM, one of the world’s leading forest products groups, for possible use in China. UPM is interested in the idea of building an industrial-scale biorefinery utilising agricultural residues to supplement its already major local presence in conventional papermaking.

> Pasi Rousu
(Published in HighTech Finland 2010)