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Technical Themes

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Biorefining themes at CPI

Delivering a diverse range of new bio-products requires the development of a whole new range of technologies. CPI has ongoing programs in each of the following four biorefining themes. These focus areas cover the majority of known methods to produce platform and specialty chemicals from renewable sources, reducing the reliance on fossil fuels.

  • Generation and Delivery of C1 gases into fermentation systems

    While sugar based fermentation has been deployed commercially for many decades the fermentation of carbon rich gases is an emerging technology of increasing commercial interest. Gas streams include the increasingly abundant low cost natural gas from shale development, biogas produced from anaerobic digestion, carbon monoxide obtained from industrial flue gases and synthesis gas derived from the gasification of carbon rich raw materials such as biomass or post-consumer wastes. The gasification of carbon rich raw materials provides several key benefits, it allows;

    • The conversion of mixed materials to a variety of simple gases
    • The conversion of non-biological raw materials such as plastic to fermentable gases
    • Both the carbohydrate and lignin components of biomass to be used as a fermentation feedstock potentially leading to high yields of fermentation product.

    As an emerging technology, the industry faces a number of technology challenges in developing these commercial processes making the development of gas fermentation processes highly collaborative, requiring expertise in thermochemical processing to be combined with the biotechnology of gas fermentation.

    Full technical demonstration of processes also requires the on-site integration of gas generation, for example gasification rigs, and gas fermentation vessels.

    CPI brings together critical competences and facilities for gasification, anaerobic digestion and fermentation enabling integrated technology development and demonstration.

  • Generations and Delivery of Sugars into fermentation systems

    The commercialisation of fermentation processes based on industrial sugar remains technically challenging. Successful technical deployment requires the efficient and precise integration of five process operations; biomass preparation and pretreatment, carbohydrate hydrolysis to produce industrial sugar, sugar fermentation and finally; product recovery and purification.

    Each of these process units has their unique challenges, in particular;

    • The pretreatment of lignocellulose to allow the breakdown of cellulose and hemicellulose into fermentable sugars
    • Development of new technology optimised for mixed sugar fermentation
    • The development of efficient low energy product recovery systems

    Additionally and most importantly these process units need to be optimised to both feedstock and product and efficiently integrated with respect to technology and economics. The raw material for these processes has traditionally been sourced from sugar or starch crops. However to avoid food chain impacts, decrease fermentable sugar costs and increase sugar availability, commercial interest is increasingly moving towards the use of industrial sugars derived from lignocellulosic biomass or the use of sugars in industrial or post-consumer waste.

    The competence provided by CPI’s experienced and knowledgeable staff combined with world class infrastructure and facilities make CPI an ideal project development partner capable of integrated process demonstration at commercially relevant scale.

  • Fractionation and Extraction of products from renewable materials

    Currently a large emphasis is placed on specific platform technology e.g. fermentation, in the development of the overall technology for the conversion of biomass into fuels and chemicals. However, the overall conversion methodology must be accompanied by an integrated upstream (preparation of biomass) and downstream (recovery and purification of product) processing protocol.

    Upstream manipulation of biomass requires either a physical or chemical refining step to provide a substrate which is amenable for further processing. Typical physical processes involve techniques such as chipping or dry and wet milling to separate bulk fractions or optimise particle size. Chemical refining includes the pretreatment technologies that disrupt and release industrial sugars for downstream fermentation and extraction technologies that recover valuable plant metabolites.

    Downstream processing can be one of the largest cost components in biorefining especially where products are produced as dilute process streams. Product recovery can involve a range of techniques; distillation, crystallisation, chromatography, membrane-based separations, liquid-liquid extraction or gas stripping. The development of continuous extraction with aqueous or ionic liquids for end product recovery has the potential to improve product separation and also fermentation productivity through the prevention of inhibitor build up.

    The main challenge is optimising the efficient integration of upstream and downstream processing with the core process technology when taking processes to realistic economic scales.

    CPI provides the knowledge, experience and infrastructure to support clients in defining, optimising and integrating upstream and downstream processing with a client’s core technology. Early integration of technology allows projects to efficiently move down the development pipeline through pilot runs, process demonstration and on to commercialization.

  • Process Development in Anaerobic Digestion

    Anaerobic Digestion provides an ideal route to recover valuable energy and intermediates from organic waste streams with high moisture content, helping to close process loops and so improve process sustainability regarding materials and energy use/recovery.

    CPI’s Anaerobic Digestion Development Centre can help businesses and early stage innovation to test, validate, scale-up and realise their innovations. CPI’s research and development activities de-risk the innovation process by providing access to in-depth anaerobic digestion expertise and comprehensive testing facilities, across various scales, up to 1500L.

    At CPI, we take every care to provide a robust, scientific approach to project design and implementation. Our experience of techno economic modelling and problem solving can help provide the optimum route to scaled process demonstration; essential to minimising cost and timelines for projects including anaerobic digestion.

    State–of–the–art facilities can be tailored to clients project needs and combined with CPI’s scientists, engineers and business specialists, offers a unique set of services designed to give clients a competitive advantage in the rapidly growing Anaerobic Digestion sector. CPI’s Anaerobic Digestion Development Centre is part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, endorsed by the UK Government as a National Centre and is completely independent.