ZeaChem, Inc. and GreenWood Resources, Inc. (GWR), on behalf of GreenWood Tree Farm Fund, LP ("GTFF") announced Monday the signing of a non-binding Letter of Intent to supply poplar tree (aka Pacific Albus) feed stock under a long-term agreement to support the operation of an initial 1.5 million gallon per year (GPY) ZeaChem cellulosic Bio-Refinery located near GTFF's Boardman, Oregon Albus tree farm. Initial engineering for the site has already begun.
We look forward to working with ZeaChem as it commercializes its process and believe it sets the stage for the development of future short rotation poplar biomass energy tree farms integrated with emerging technologies for converting to ethanol.
-- Jeff Nuss, President and CEO of GWR
The company is pioneering biorefinery technology using combinations of biochemical and thermochemical processing steps. Unlike other processes, the Zeachem process uses all fractions of the plant - cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin, giving it much higher yield.
The biochemical processing step converts fermentable sugars in the cellulosic biomass into acetate, which is then recovered from the broth as an ester. The thermochemical processing step converts lignin and other non-fermentable materials in the cellulosic biomass into hydrogen. By combining these two streams in a hydrogenolysis reaction, ZeaChem produces ethanol. Unlike other processes, the Zeachem process uses all fractions of the plant - cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin, giving it much higher yield.
The biochemical processing step can ferment any fermentable sugar, including simple sugars like those found in sugar cane juice, more complex sugars found in corn starch, and the mixed sugars commonly found in cellulosic hydrolyzates. Any material that isn't readily fermented, such as lignin, can be processed via thermochemical means to produce hydrogen.
Other approaches have theoretical restrictions that limit ethanol production to 60-100 gallons per dry ton of biomass. The ZeaChem technology will produce fifty percent more ethanol per ton of feed than the current best-in-class technology.
According to ZeaChem ethanol produced by corn dry milling in the US has a net energy ratio of under 1.6, meaning that fewer than 1.6 units of renewable energy are produced for each unit of fossil energy used in the production the crops and conversion of the crops into fuel ethanol. In contrast, the ZeaChem technology enables a net energy ratio of 10-12. Such high values fundamentally change the nature of any policy debate on the environmental aspects of ethanol as a liquid transportation fuel.
Additionally, ZeaChem and GWR agreed to explore increasing the scope of the relationship to accommodate additional capacity at this Bio-Refinery and other future sites through the potential development of short-rotation poplar biomass energy tree farms integrated with ethanol conversion technology.
Greenwood's poplar hybridization efforts, through classical breeding, have improved yields by more than 30% over the past 20 years. The result: trees that can grow more than an inch in height each day and well over an inch in diameter each year.