INEOS thrives on innovation. So no guesses for which company is behind a project that has the potential to change the way we think about chemicals, energy and waste.
Building on more than 20 years of research, INEOS is perfecting the technology to turn household waste into renewable energy and advanced biofuel.
And unlike some biofuels, which rely on corn, sugar cane or vegetable oil, the INEOS technology won’t be competing with food crops for land or resources.
“Not only does it divert waste that would otherwise have gone to landfill but it also breaks the link between food crops and bioethanol production,” said Peter Williams CEO of INEOS Bio.
“Reducing waste and recycling is essential but there will always be some waste that has to be dealt with. Recover and recycle what you can as part of the existing waste infrastructure then instead of sending the rest to landfill in the future it can be sent to a biorefinery based on INEOS technology.”
America alone is believed to generate about 260 million tons of household waste (garbage) every year. New landfill sites are becoming more difficult to permit and many existing sites are almost full.
“Several states are actually shipping their garbage across state lines,” said Kelly Russell Regulatory Affairs analyst at INEOS Bio.
INEOS’ patented technology offers a way to break the old cycle.
INEOS Bio has invested millions of dollars in building the ground-breaking Indian River County BioEnergy Centre on the site of a former grapefruit juice plant near Vero Beach in Florida.
As it stands, it will be the first commercial plant in the world using INEOS Bio’s technology, which is capable of turning a huge range of waste into bioethanol.
But that’s not all.
The centre is already producing electricity to run the plant – and power up to 1,400 homes in the area.
“The production of renewable energy is a significant benefit of our technology,” said Peter.
When the plant becomes fully operational, it will produce eight million gallons of advanced biofuels every year for blending with gasoline.
Those eight million gallons will be enough for 150,000 average-sized family cars to travel 12,000 miles a year, assuming that the gasoline includes 10% ethanol.
US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is ‘very excited’ about INEOS’ plant.
He told reporter Laura Ruane at USA Today that INEOS is a company to watch.
The US is in a strong position to lead the world. It desperately needs to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and foreign oil, and INEOS is helping to find a solution.
Its bioethanol is expected to help the growth in the use of biofuels in both America and Europe, and at the same time offer a new and better solution to dealing with waste.
In America, the major oil companies must, by law, buy – and blend – a certain amount of biofuels through the Renewable Fuel Standard.
“Basically we are aiming to help governments to achieve their targets on a number of policy issues: reducing waste to landfill; increasing access to renewable fuels and energy; lowering carbon emissions; and improving energy security. All from one technology” said Peter.
America has been blending ethanol into gasoline since the late 1970s but nearly all ethanol is currently derived from corn.
That means, when the weather misbehaves – as it did last summer when the Midwest was hit by a severe drought – availability of traditional bioethanol fell and costs rose. INEOS bioethanol will not depend on the weather.
This, though, is really just the start of INEOS’ biofuels’ worldwide journey.
It wants to rapidly roll out its highly innovative technology around the world to help communities deal with their own waste.
“This technology changes the way that people will think about chemicals, energy and waste,” said Peter. “Our expertise in licensing technology means that we will be able to make this available around the world wherever there is a waste issue to be tackled. And a the same time we are helping meet climate change targets,”
Altogether, there is potential for hundreds of biorefineries.
“INEOS cannot possibly build enough of these alone,” he said. “But we are interested in working with local municipalities and partnering with governments to meet their needs.”
A country that had a waste problem should be excited by what’s happening in Florida. And it seems many are.
The Florida plant will initially be creating fuel – and power – from yard and garden waste only.
The BioEnergy Centre is also a research and development facility and will be a reference point for other countries that opt to license INEOS’ bioethanol technology.
“The plant, which is in its final stages of the process of moving from commissioning to operation, has already provided vital learning for our plans of broader commercialisation.” he said.
“It has allowed us to test and validate results from laboratory and pilot plant at a much larger scale and has added considerably to our knowledge and understanding.
“And going forward it will provide us with a tool to extend our technology.”
He said several important innovations had been made over the years at the plant due to its size and facilities.
“Those discoveries simply would not have been possible using only laboratory scale equipment and pilot plant,” he said.
How it works
It will take about seven minutes to convert a ton of waste into fuel that can be blended with petrol.
Vegetative and agricultural waste is mixed with oxygen to produce hot, synthesis gas.
The gas, which consists of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, is then cooled, cleaned, and fed to naturally occurring bacteria.
The bacteria convert the gas into cellulosic ethanol which is then purified to prepare for use as fuel.
The excess gas, which is not converted into ethanol, ends up in a vent gas boiler where it produces steam. Heat from the gasification process also turns into steam.
Both are then used to produce electricity to run the plant and up to 1,400 homes and businesses in the local area.
“We are hoping to produce about 24,000 gallons (90,000 litres) of fuel a day because our process is unique in that it is a continuous process rather than a batch,” said plant manager Dave King.
“Conventional ethanol from corn starch is a batch type process that takes days to ferment into ethanol.”
About 60 people will work full-time at the Vero Beach plant. Most of them live locally.
“The jobs brought an annual boost to the local payroll of more than $4 million per year in an area that was experiencing 15% unemployment when the project started,” said Dave.
Looking to the future, Dave hopes more and more car manufacturers will build cars that can take more than 10% ethanol.
“There are vehicles that exist that are called ‘flex fuel vehicles’ that in the US can run on any ethanol blend up to 85%,” he said.
He said in the US all conventional vehicles could currently run on up to 10% ethanol – and that had been the case for many years.
By contrast, in Brazil, all vehicles can run on up to 100% ethanol and are flexible-fuelled vehicles.
“The Brazilian government can at their discretion adjust the ethanol-gasoline mix based on supply and demand,” said Dave.
“But Brazilian ethanol is made from sugarcane and their market is dependent on the sugarcane crops and the price of sugar.”