3 November 2014

MIMOSA: a Biorefinery concept for protein-rich by-products

Residual lignin fraction to be suitable as feedstock for sustainable electricity and heat production

In the MIMOSA project, a fractionation process for a variety of protein-containing cellulosic feedstocks into fermentable sugars, feed components, and bioenergy is being developed. MIMOSA investigates the technical and industrial feasibility of the biorefinery process, with as main goal producing intermediates as feedstocks for the Biobased Economy. The process also produces a residual lignin fraction, that will be suitable as feedstock for sustainable electricity and heat production. MIMOSA’s current partners include Wageningen UR, RWE/Essent Power, Nuscience (Agrifirm group) and Energy Valley.

Towards multi-input processes for commercially feasible production

In the past years a lot of research has been performed on the conversion of lignocellulosic biomass for the production of fermentable sugars. In general, a combination of chemical pre-treatment (with addition of chemicals and heat) and cellulose-degrading enzymes is needed to produce fermentable sugars from lignocellulose. Today, the research is largely carried out at laboratory scale and at pilot scale.

Furthermore, a few larger demonstration plants for conversion of lignocellulose are being built, like the Chemtex Facility in Northern Italy, and Poet/DSM facility in the USA. These plants are not based on the same pre-treatment technology but use a variety of techniques such as steam explosion, a capital-intensive process step.

At this moment almost all pilot- and demonstration plants are directed at the use of one feedstock (cereal straw), and production of one product (bioethanol) via fermentation and distillation. Therefore, these plants are single-input, single-output processes. Companies who are participating in the development of the technology expect that commercially feasible production can only be achieved at very large scale facilities (with feedstock requirements exceeding 200.000 tons dry input per year), in order to overcome the high capital costs for the conversion facilities.

The MIMOSA project focuses on innovative processes by a multi-input, multi-output concept based on different pre-treatment techniques for cellulosic feedstocks. This is done in part by using innovative, partially patented technologies for alkaline pre-treatment, which can be implemented at smaller scales. In addition, the project is geared at valorising protein contained in many cellulosic biomass feedstocks, which are otherwise not used.

Identifying feedstocks and conducting fractionation trials

The main research topics of the MIMOSA project include:

  • The extraction and valorisation of proteins from protein-rich feedstocks
  • Fermentative production of lactate based on sugars obtained from these feedstocks, and
  • Producing a lignin stream for conversion to energy.

So far the project team has identified and investigated the availability and composition of a number of candidate feedstocks. Of these candidates, rapeseed meal and DDGS were the first feedstocks to be used. Secondly, fractionation trials have been conducted to identify protein yield and -quality, and fermentable sugar yields. A number of promising process concepts were identified. Based on these results, a business case for different market scenario’s and different biorefinery scales was calculated.

First success on protein-products, and lactate extraction

Process integration has shown that a high value protein-enriched product can be generated from the feedstocks, in addition to significant fermentable sugars for fermentation purposes and lignin for energy generation. The new process is expected to be cost-effective at the small scale, as it is much more simple in design compared to conventional processes and can be carried out at modest temperatures.

Another specific success was obtained in the extraction of calcium lactate from fermentation liquids. The team showed that lactate can be isolated in a relative pure solid form, and that other valuable components can be recycled directly, minimizing losses and maximizing process yields. In the next phase of the project, the process will be scaled up to bench scale, and a full techno-economic analysis will be carried out.

BBE Park Cuijk

MIMOSA is one of the projects executed under the Consortium Biobased Economy (BBE) Park Cuijk.

BBE Park Cuijk is a project that aims the development of the Biobased Economy surrounding the Essent biomass facility at Cuijk. With financial support of TKI-BBE, a subsidy of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, a consortium of partners from research and industry work together on innovative and development projects around BBE Park Cuijk.

Source: Wageningen UR, press release, 2014-10-15.

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