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Clariant successfully concludes Miscanthus testing for GRACE

Switzerland-headed specialty chemicals major Clariant has successfully concluded the conversion of around 30 tonnes of Miscanthus into lignocellulosic sugars and ethanol. Provided by INA Group, Croatia’s leading oil and gas company, the Miscanthus biomass was harvested and baled at the INA demonstration site in Croatia in February this year and shipped for processing to Clariant’s pre-commercial sunliquid plant in Straubing, Germany as part of the EU-funded GRACE project.

Clariant's pre-commercial sunliquid demonstration plant in Straubing, Germany. The technology offers a completely integrated process design built on established process technology. Innovative technology features include the integrated production of feedstock and process specific enzymes and simultaneous C5 and C6 fermentation (photo courtesy Clariant).

Clariant’s pre-commercial sunliquid demonstration plant in Straubing, Germany. The technology offers a completely integrated process design built on established process technology. Innovative technology features include the integrated production of feedstock and process specific enzymes and simultaneous C5 and C6 fermentation (photo courtesy Clariant).

INA Group is a consortium member of the “GRowing Advanced industrial Crops on marginal lands for biorEfineries” (GRACE) project, a EUR 15 million project that aims to optimise various Miscanthus and hemp value chains. The consortium consists of 22 partners from universities, agricultural companies, and industry and is coordinated by the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart, Germany.

GRACE is primarily funded (EUR 12.3 million) by the Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU), a public-private partnership between the EU and Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC) under the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. The private project partners are contributing the remaining EUR 2.7 million.

Produce lignocellulosic sugars and ethanol

The aims and objectives of GRACE are to optimize various Miscanthus value chains, to produce sustainable products with strong market potential and to develop Miscanthus as a sustainable feedstock resource for cultivation on marginal, contaminated and abandoned land.

Against this background, Clariant was asked by the GRACE consortium to run tests of Miscanthus as a feedstock for the production of lignocellulosic sugars and ethanol using its sunliquid technology at its pre-commercial plant and testing facility in Straubing, Germany.

As the bioethanol demonstration case leader of the EU-funded GRACE project, we are satisfied with the testing results. These results are a push towards further development of a bio-based value chain and a circular bioeconomy for further commercial conditions, said Stjepan Nikolić, Operating Director of Refining and Marketing at INA.

According to Clariant, final results prove that the sunliquid technology can successfully convert Miscanthus biomass into lignocellulosic sugars and ethanol, confirming the benefits of the sugar process platform.

Thanks to the flexible sunliquid process design, lignocellulosic sugars can be generated as an intermediate product and these have the potential to serve as a building block for future production of bio-based chemicals.

Making further use of Clariant’s proprietary enzyme platform for feedstock specific enzymes can finally open up the full potential of this promising energy crop.

We are very pleased to work with renowned partners such as INA and other GRACE consortium members. These feedstock tests constitute an important milestone for Clariant. It is for the first time that we tested Miscanthus – a high yielding and robust energy crop – in our pre-commercial plant in Straubing. Once again, this showed the flexibility and efficiency of the sunliquid technology platform when it comes to different lignocellulosic feedstock, emphasized Dr Markus Rarbach, Head of Business Line Biofuels and Derivatives at Clariant.

Miscanthus an interesting feedstock

According to Clariant, the trial has demonstrated that Miscanthus, also known as elephant grass or China reed, proves itself as an interesting feedstock option for the production of lignocellulosic sugars and ethanol.

Miscanthus

According to GRACE, Miscanthus is a genus with over 15 species. The most important for biomass production in Europe are Miscanthus sinensis and Miscanthus sacchariflorus. The virtually only commercially available variety is Miscanthus x gigantheus, a natural, sterile hybrid of Miscanthus sinensis and Miscanthus sacchariflorus (photo courtesy GRACE).

Once established on marginal lands, the plant grows rapidly over 15-20 years as a permanent crop has a low mineral content and offers a high yield per hectare. Pesticides and fertilizers are not required on a yearly basis, which further adds to miscanthus’ ecological benefits.

Over the past seven years, Clariant’s pre-commercial plant has also demonstrated cellulosic ethanol production on agricultural residues such as corn stover, sugarcane bagasse, and straw as well as wheat, barley, and rice straw.

In September 2018, Clariant broke ground on its greenfield first-of-its-kind full-scale commercial cellulosic ethanol plant in Podari, the southwestern region of Romania. The new plant, with an annual production capacity of 50 000 tonnes, will be a flagship site, confirming competitiveness and sustainability of the sunliquid technology at commercial scale thus supporting Clariant’s sunliquid licensing business strategy.

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