26 Juli 2011

Construction start for new CleanTech project with great future potential

Süd-Chemie lays foundation for largest cellulosic ethanol plant in Germany

Süd-Chemie AG, Munich/Germany, a member of the Clariant Group, Muttenz/Switzerland, has started construction in Straubing (Lower Bavaria) of what will be the largest German plant for the manufacture of the climate-friendly biofuel cellulosic ethanol from agricultural waste materials. In the presence of Bavaria’s Minister of Economic Affairs, Martin Zeil, the ground-breaking ceremony for the future project funded by the Bavarian state government and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) was held on 26 July 2011.

From the end of 2011, the plant, which is being built very close to the Bavarian BioCampus in Straubing, will produce up to 1,000 tonnes of cellulosic ethanol per year, primarily from wheat straw from the Straubing area, an agricultural centre of what is known locally as “the granary of Lower Bavaria”. It therefore constitutes a key milestone on the road to the commercialisation of the technology. Around 20 new jobs will be created at the location in the next three years.

Dr Günter von Au, Chairman of the Managing Board of Süd-Chemie AG, commented: “With the investment in building the demonstration plant, we are taking a major step towards commercialising our sunliquid® process and thus launching a sustainable process for climate-friendly fuels. Our thanks go to all local and national partners as well as our government sponsors, especially the Bavarian state government and the BMBF. With our Straubing demonstration plant, we will put a future technology made in Germany right at the forefront of the global market.”

Bavaria’s Minister of Economic Affairs, Martin Zeil, explained: “First-generation biofuels are produced from edible parts of the plants, resulting in competition between food and fuel. Süd-Chemie’s technology shows a way out of this dilemma by using the inedible parts of the plants. In addition, this technology is even more climate-friendly. That is why I have personally campaigned for the cellulose ethanol plant in Straubing and ensured that Bavaria will provide EUR 5 million for accompanying research projects.”

Germany’s Federal Minister of Education and Research, Annette Schavan, continued: “Stepping up the replacement of scarce crude oil stocks with renewable raw materials is a stated aim of the national research strategy Bioeconomy 2030. This is why we are funding the development of biorefineries that can produce valuable chemical raw materials or biofuel from agricultural waste products and by-products such as straw. In the next six years, a total of EUR 2.4 billion in funding is available for the bioeconomy research strategy, which was adopted by the German federal government in November 2010.”

Dr Andre Koltermann, Head of Strategic Research and Development at Süd-Chemie, added: “As a second-generation biofuel, cellulosic ethanol delivers significant greenhouse gas savings of up to 95%. In addition, cellulosic ethanol has considerable potential to reduce dependence on crude oil on a long-term basis through local production of a renewable energy source.”

Since 2009, the sunliquid® process developed by Süd-Chemie has already been tested successfully on a pilot scale. This is an innovative, biotechnological process for producing bioethanol from plant waste materials such as cereals or corn stalks. Construction of the demonstration plant is the essential interim step for the planning of energy-efficient and cost-effective production facilities with optimum greenhouse gas savings.

In this fully integrated process, highly optimised raw material-specific biocatalysts deliver high yields under stable process conditions. Process-integrated production of the biocatalysts provides flexibility and reduces production costs. By means of a new yeast organism, C5 and C6 sugars can be converted to ethanol, which increases the yield by around another 50%. A new purification process developed by Süd-Chemie will also be used for the first time at the Straubing plant. This is a significant factor in ensuring that the total amount of process energy required can be gained from the non-recyclable residual substance lignin.

The total project volume is around EUR 28 million: EUR 16 million in investment and just under EUR 12 million for accompanying research measures. The Bavarian state government and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) have each put around EUR 5 million into this and other research initiatives relating to the project.

About second-generation biofuels
Today´s already widely-marketed first-generation biofuels are produced solely from plant matter containing either oil, starch or sugar, for instance biodiesel made from rapeseed oil or bioethanol made from starch or sugar. In the case of second-generation biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol, however, no starch or oil-bearing parts of plants are used, but only cellulose-based residue. This fuel does not compete with food or animal feed, since those parts of the plants containing starch, for instance maize kernels, can still be used to produce food. Second-generation biofuels are also more climate-friendly than fossil fuels, such as oil or natural gas, since during their growth, plants absorb exactly the same amount of climate gas, namely carbon dioxide, from the atmosphere as is subsequently emitted when they are used for engine combustion.

The introduction of climate-friendly second-generation biofuels is supported by the legislative framework prevailing in both the US and the EU. In the US, a law passed at the end of 2007 stipulates that by 2022, approximately 15 percent of the country´s annual gasoline consumption is to be replaced by biofuels, almost 60 percent of this being based on lignocellulosic residues. The Renewable Energy Directive passed by the EU Parliament in December 2008 requires that by 2020, renewable sources of energy must account for at least 10 percent of the fuel used to transport goods and passengers. The annual volumes of surplus cereal straw currently available in the EU would produce more than enough second-generation bioethanol to meet the EU´s 10-percent substitution goal.

About Süd-Chemie
Süd-Chemie, a member of the Clariant Group, Muttenz, Switzerland, is a specialty chemicals company quoted on the stock exchange in Germany (ISIN: DE0007292005; WKN: 729200). Having its headquarters in Munich, it operates on a worldwide scale. The common denominator of all Süd-Chemie products and services is the efficient and sparing use of natural resources to enhance the quality of life for humans and the environment. Products manufactured by the Catalysis and Energy Business Unit (formerly: Catalysts division) offer solutions for the chemical, petrochemical and refinery industries, for energy storage and hydrogen production, as well as off-gas purification. Key markets served by its Functional Materials Business Unit (formerly: Adsorbents division) include the consumer goods, packaging and foundry industries, as well water treatment. Süd-Chemie generated sales of EUR 1.225 billion in 2010, just under 85% of these with customers outside Germany. On 30 June 2011, the Group employed some 6,500 people in approximately 120 sales and production companies worldwide.

Source: Süd-Chemie AG, press release, 2011-07-26.

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