Looking ahead at Iogen Corporation

THE FUTURE OF CELLULOSIC ETHANOL

a strategic team at Iogen Corporation, based in Ottawa, Ontario, is engaged in discussions to explore a commercial solution for producing advanced biofuels on an industrial scale.

“The technology for cellulosic ethanol is ready,” says Lisa Ranken, public affairs and communications associate with Iogen Corporation, “we’re just working on a strategy for how to best deploy that technology.”

Iogen recently announced it would not pursue plans to build a much anticipated, larger scale cellulosic ethanol facility in southern Manitoba, resulting in the loss of 150 jobs at the company. The facility was an initiative of Iogen Energy Corporation supported jointly by Royal Dutch Shell and Iogen Corporation. They agreed to a new plan to refocus the strategy and activities of Iogen Energy, which included the cancellation of the ethanol facility.  Ranken says this announcement does not mean cellulosic ethanol is dead in the water, rather there are a number of other projects in the works that could be a better strategy to commercialize the technology on a larger scale.

Ranken says plans are shaping up to expand the line of offerings at Iogen with new technology supporting the production of advanced biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol. Announcements detailing the new strategy and activities are expected later this year.

These developments should build on an already successful industrial enzyme business at Iogen Corporation, says Ranken. The company develops, manufactures and markets enzymes that are used worldwide to modify and improve the processing of natural fibres within the textile, brewing, animal feed, and pulp and paper industries.

In the meantime, Iogen’s demonstration scale facility in Ottawa, which converts biomass to cellulosic ethanol using enzyme technology, will continue to run in shorter campaigns. Opened in 2004, this world-first demonstration facility helps to validate equipment performance and overcome production challenges prior to construction of larger commercial plants. 

Cellulosic ethanol is a fully renewable, advanced biofuel that is among the     most cost-effective ways to reduce greenhouse gases and gasoline use in vehicles. The use of agricultural biomass as part of the cellulosic ethanol process can help improve farm income and build rural economies.

The molecules that make up cellulosic ethanol are similar to those comprising conventional, grain-based ethanol – both can be easily integrated into existing fuel distribution systems and vehicles.

The difference between the two products is that conventional ethanol derives from grains such as corn and wheat, while cellulosic ethanol comes from the non-food portion of renewable feedstocks such as cereal straw and corn stover. One tonne for fibre can yield more than 340 litres of cellulosic ethanol. Additionally, the lignin in the plant fibres that are used also generate the energy needed to drive the cellulosic ethanol process – eliminating the need for fossil fuel sources.

Iogen’s technology makes the process economically feasible to convert agricultural biomass into cellulosic ethanol. Among the techniques that have been developed and perfected at the Iogen facility is an efficient pretreatment method that increases the surface area and accessibility of the plant fibre to the enzymes that will break down the plant matter. Special reactor systems and advanced fermentation methods also help convert the plant sugars into ethanol. Couple these techniques with Iogen’s worldwide reputation for developing highly potent and efficient enzymes, and the process to yield cellulosic ethanol becomes very efficient and affordable.

In the long term, Iogen plans to license its cellulosic ethanol technology through partnerships resulting in turnkey commercial plants. Iogen employs 110 people at its Ottawa headquarters. •