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Biorefining can lead to 100% replacement of gasoline with domestic cellulosic ethanol: Pasi Rousu

According to reports, the Finnish company, Chempolis Ltd, is eyeing to tap Indian market with its patented third generation (3G) technologies for biorefining of non-food biomasses. In this e-interview with Rakesh Rao, Pasi Rousu, President, Chempolis Asia & Pacific, elaborates on advantages offered by 3G technologies to India and what it means to the country’s fuel economy.

Compared to first and second generation biorefining technologies, what are the key advantages of 3G technology?
There are significant technological and cost differences between the biofuel technology generations. Currently, commercial bioethanol is produced by 1G technology from food crops. The second and third generation (2G and 3G) technologies use non-food lignocellulosic biomasses and are on a threshold of commercialisation. The unique advantage of Chempolis’ 3G technology is the selective fractionation of biomass resulting in reduced requirement for costly enzymes and higher purity of products. Compared to other typical approaches for the production of cellulosic ethanol, co-production of ethanol and biochemicals by the formicobio™ technology gives 40% more sales revenues. Because cellulose has been purified before hydrolysis, enzyme and overall operating costs are also favourable.

How is the demand for 3G refining technology in developed and developing countries (or emerging economies)?
The fundamentals of driving forces for advanced biorefining are in principle globally the same: depletion of oil resources and increased oil price, mitigation of CO2 emissions and climate change, and reduction of dependence on imported oil and petroleum products.

Currently, the biggest demand is for advanced biorefining, ie production of biofuels and chemicals from cellulosic biomasses. Governments around the world (including India) have recently made strong mandates for increasing the consumption of biofuels. Such mandates and related incentives are promoting the expansion of biorefining. However, the role of advanced biofuels using cellulosic biomasses as raw material is still expected to grow.

The challenge of implementing new technology is that it is also using new raw materials and end product market is regulated and taking first steps too. Even there are great benefits it’s important to support the first demonstration projects.

Compared to fossil fuel and other alternative energy resources, how cost-effective is 3G refining technology?
India is facing an energy crisis due to increasing population and hence the dependence on imported foreign fossil energy sources. New renewable energy, fuels and non-fossil based chemicals are needed to meet the economic growth. The current situation consuming a significant share of the Gross National Product (GNP) for the import of oil is not sustainable in any way.

For 1G ethanol producers, the use of non-food biomasses side by side with the existing capacity would give both profitability as well as creditability with respect to environmental and social sustainability. For example, in India, the 3G technology would provide approximately three-fold revenues by the use of bagasse when compared to current use in co-generation at sugar mills.

In summary, using 3G technology gives better profitability than 2G or 1G, this is due to selective conversion technology and use of residual biomasses.

Can 3G refining technology offer effective solutions to India’s growing energy needs?
India is a very rich country when it comes to the availability of residual biomasses, such as straws and bagasse. These biomasses are generated annually over 400 million tonnes in India. Using 30% of these available residues in 3G biorefining would enable bioethanol production of 20 million tonnes per annum.

Indian government has set mandatory to blend 5% of ethanol into gasoline (E5). Within few years the government targets at E20 blends. Due to the current limited domestic supply, the oil companies have had difficulties in fulfilling the E5 mandate. Biorefining of cellulosic biomasses would be the most sustainable way to meet the mandates and replace the use of current petroleum products. By utilising cellulosic biomasses, co-produced annually by Indian agriculture, biorefining of domestic raw materials could potentially lead to 100% replacement of gasoline with domestic cellulosic ethanol.

Have you been successful in tying up with any Indian companies to establish biorefinery projects?
Chempolis is currently negotiating for establishing a commercial-scale biorefinery projects in India in co-operation with leading Indian companies from sugar, oil and petrochemical industries. Feasible locations are especially in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana. The size of biorefinery can be adjusted based on the raw material availability starting from 1,00,000 tonnes of biomass (on annual dry basis). A biorefinery of that size would produce approximately 25,000 tonnes of cellulosic ethanol and biochemicals per year. In addition, over 50,000 tonne per annum (TPA) biocoal would be co-produced.

Biorefinery will directly employ 150 people. Indirectly, the biomass value chain may influence positively on income of thousands of people. It is important to realise that currently India is importing petroleum but when using 3G biorefining technology for the production of biofuels and chemicals, this currency would remain in India for the benefit of Indian people.

What does India offers to Chempolis? Is India a conducive market for biofuels?
The main challenge for advanced biorefining is to establish first reference projects of commercial production. India has several advantages and it certainly can be at the forefront of biorefining, because Indian companies already have a tradition to utilise residual biomass from agriculture, especially combustion of sugarcane bagasse and production of electricity. The country also has existing production of ethanol and related infrastructure.

We expect a tremendous change in advanced biofuel business to take place in near future. First generation ethanol has to give place for non-food solutions and usage of molasses just cannot fulfil the targets. We offer a 3G non-food biorefining platform which produces pure cellulosic sugars, biochemicals and solid biocoal. With our patented and proven technology and with current market prices, the conversion of bagasse to non-food bioethanol and biochemicals is already very profitable.

What are your growth plans for India?
Chempolis is currently negotiating for establishing a commercial-scale biorefinery projects in India in co-operation with leading Indian companies from sugar, oil and petrochemical industries. Because India is targeting at increased use of biofuels in transportation and the country has a strong chemical industry, Chempolis sees India as a very attractive market that offers opportunities for substantial growth. Chempolis is also engaged setting up its subsidiary to India.

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