Shazzan!: Turning Urban Trash into Treasure Island, the LanzaTech, Sekisui Chemicals Story
by Jim Lane (Biofuels Digest) Sekisui Chemicals, LanzaTech break-through in MSW-to-ethanol demonstration — … Were trash to acquire a substantial uplift in value, that’s the end to the landfill crisis.
In Japan, Sekisui Chemical and LanzaTech have successfully demonstrated the production of ethanol from unsorted municipal solid waste — which can be used directly as a fuel or as a precursor to butadiene (a key raw material in the production of synthetic fibers and rubber), isopropanol, and isoprene — which themselves are used to make anything from tires to sneakers, cell phone covers to yoga pants.
The Project Backstory
In 2013, Sekisui launched a project with LanzaTech to find an economically viable way to recycle the carbon in garbage into useful products, such as plastics and rubber. With a pilot scale facility outside of Tokyo, Sekisui has succeeded in demonstrating stable plant operation and high ethanol yields.
According to Sekisui, the plant’s performance demonstrated conversion efficiencies approximately four times that of conventional material recycling in Japan. With such efficiencies, Sekisui estimates that it would be possible to produce the equivalent amount of plastic and rubber products used in Japan today, applying to technology across Japan’s waste resource.
And, let’s look at the global footprint of waste. “Globally we could make around 60 billion gallons of fuel from existing landfill waste,” LanzaTech CEO Jennifer Holmgren told The Digest.
Next steps in Japan? Sekisui will collaborate with many local governments and waste incineration companies who are the main operators of incinerators as potential partners and utilize government support targeting technology commercialization by 2019.
Together with LanzaTech, they have taken an existing gasification system at a landfill site and added LanzaTech’s fermentation capability to a slipstream of the gas.
1) Microbial technology to produce ethanol from gas emitted from waste? That’s LanzaTech’s technology. …
2) Clean up technology to purify feedstock gas to harmless levels for microbes. That’s Sekisui’s technology. …
Others have attempted MSW-to-ethanol before. What happened?
Enerkem is doing it at small commercial-scale in Edmonton, but MSW-to-ethanol has elsewhere been slow to emerge. At one time, Fulcrum BioEnergy contemplated MSW-to-ethanol before shifting decisively towards making drop-in jet and diesel fuels. And Terrabon (now Earth Energy Renewables) worked hard in this field; Fiberight too. It’s proven to be a difficult technology and, more to the point, difficult project economics.
So, the Sekisui clean-up technology is critical in this respect — the wrong gas streams just kills the economics, we’ve seen, even faster than it poisons the microbe. Rate and yield goes out the window.
But there’s titer, as well — the concentration of ethanol which the microbe can tolerate. The lower the titer, the higher the energy needed for the distillation step that separated ethanol from the broth. READ MORE
From Trash to Tank: Upcycling of Landfill to Fuel Demonstrated in Japan (Lanza Tech/Globe Newswire)