Fuel from waste

Ineos is aiming to produce commercial quantities of bioethanol fuel from biodegradable municipal waste in two years’ time.

Chemical giant Ineos has developed a technique to produce bioethanol in large quantities from municipal solid waste, organic commercial waste and agricultural residues.

The company believes that, using the process, one tonne of dry waste can be converted into about 400 litres (100 gallons) of ethanol, which can either be blended with traditional fuels or replace them altogether.

The technology – already proven at pilot plant scale – uses a three-stage process.

First, the organic carbon material is gasified using oxygen to produce synthesis gas. The hot synthesis gas is then quenched and cleaned. Next, the cooled synthesis gas is passed into a fermentation process, where it is consumed by anaerobic bacteria and turned into ethanol. Finally, the ethanol solution is purified to make anhydrous ethanol.

The ethanol is subsequently blended into petrol at 5 per cent ethanol concentration for E5, or at 85 per cent ethanol concentration for E85.

Car companies have already developed engines that can run efficiently on both bioethanol and conventional fuels. Up to now, however, bioethanol has been manufactured primarily from food crops, which has raised concerns on price and availability.

Peter Williams, chief executive officer of Ineos Bio, a new Ineos business created on 1 July 2008 to commercialise the technology, said: ‘The fact that we have been able to decouple second  generation biofuel from food is a major breakthrough, and we expect our technology to provide cost-competitive, sustainable, renewable fuels.’

With the technology already proven on a pilot scale, the next challenge for the company is to build a plant for full commercial production.

Williams added: ‘We expect to announce the location of the first commercial plant fairly shortly. We plan to be producing commercial amounts of bioethanol fuel for cars from waste within about two years.’