TMO’s ‘second generation’ process uses common bacteria, developed from a strain found in compost heaps, to produce ethanol from cellulosic (or ‘woody’) biomass materials. The PDU has proved the Company’s unique pre-treatment and fermentation technology to be commercially viable beyond the laboratory, as a fully integrated stage within a continuous ethanol production process. Since its completion in summer 2008 TMO’s plant, located at Dunsfold Park, a centre of excellence for growing eco-businesses near Guildford in Surrey, has been running 24 hours a day, seven days a week successfully to process a wide range of cellulosic feedstocks on an industrial scale. These feedstocks – including grasses, wheat straw, newspaper, municipal waste and distillers’ grains (a by-product of the traditional corn ethanol process) – have all been converted into a ‘beer’ for distillation into fuel ethanol.
TMO has been operating the plant with the aim of refining the company’s patented cellulosic ethanol process and tailoring the process to sample feedstocks provided by its development partners, including major US biofuel companies. With the PDU now running reliably and consistently for over a year, TMO will be using the data and experience gained to ramp up its commercial activities, especially in its key initial market, the United States. In particular, the PDU has shown that TMO’s process is ideal for retro-fit to existing corn ethanol plants, typically improving their yields by up to 15 per cent., as well as being ideally suited for new-build ethanol applications.
The PDU is staffed by a dedicated team of 12 full-time engineers and incorporates 5km of pipe work, 50km of cable, 2000 valves and an automated process control system which monitors some 5000 separate parameters in the plant. As a direct result of the PDU’s construction and operation TMO has created 15 jobs in the local area. The Company has also secured UK shadow ministerial support for an official anniversary ceremony at the PDU on 15 September 2009.
Hamish Curran, Chief Executive of TMO, commented: “Our highly successful cellulosic ethanol demonstration plant has proven conclusively TMO’s unique ‘second generation’ ethanol technology to our development partners and broader target customers. After more than 9500 hours of operation, we are confident that TMO’s process is suitable both for new-build cellulosic ethanol facilities, and as bolt-on to improve dramatically the performance and economics of existing corn ethanol plants. Fuelled by our recent £11 million funding round, we are now embarking on full commercial roll-out of our process, with US retrofit applications as our target launch market, where we believe we can increase pant yields by, typically, 15 percent, with corresponding margin uplifts of up to 50 percent.”
“We are encouraged by the strong prospects in the biofuels sector, particularly in the US, where passing of the Energy Independence and Security Act and also the Farm Bill, as well as the election of Barack Obama, have combined to give the sustainable energy sector a significant boost. We are confident that our technology know-how, strong cash position, and regulatory support will help bring TMO’s process to market rapidly and effectively.“