St1 Oy, a Finland-headed oil refiner and developer of waste- and residue-based ethanol production, has completed the construction of Etanolix pilot plant at Ubon Bio Ethanol Co Ltd (UBON) starch and ethanol plant site in Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand. The pilot plant will be operated for a year in several starch factories to test different environments, conditions, and seasonal changes to finalize the concept for a full-scale ethanol production plant using cassava pulp into an investment proposal.
In January 2017, St1 and Ubon Bio Ethanol Co signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to launch a pilot project for the production of ethanol from cassava waste in Thailand. On April 3, 2018, a ribbon-cutting ceremony, officiated by the Finnish Ambassador Satu Suikkari-Kleven was held signalling the completion of the pilot plant construction and the beginning of the plant piloting to produce advanced ethanol from cassava pulp, a residue from starch and tapioca production.
In the project, St1 is piloting its own technology to produce advanced ethanol for transportation using cassava pulp as feedstock. The pilot plant will be operated for a year in several starch factories to test different environments, conditions, and seasonal changes.
Our team consisting of members of both companies is very excited to reach the piloting phase. The construction of ethanol production pilot equipment has been carried out in very good cooperation with our local partners in Thailand, said Patrick Pitkänen, Advanced Fuels Director for St1 Renewable Energy.
The pilot phase is essential to finalize the concept for a full-scale ethanol production plant using cassava pulp into an investment proposal. St1 has also founded a subsidiary in Thailand, St1 Renewable Energy Thailand Ltd, to run the piloting and R&D of the cassava pulp ethanol production process.
A challenging feedstock
Cassava waste is known to be a challenging feedstock due to its fibrous consistency. St1’s experiences of using Cellunolix technology to produce ethanol from sawdust helped to solve the challenges involved in the processing of fibrous feedstock materials. Equally, it is important to carry out the R&D in the local environment by local people in order to utilize all their valuable know-how of the feedstock and conditions, said Patrick Pitkänen.
The aim of the project is to start construction of the first commercial plant after the pilot phase. The amount of cassava waste generated by Thailand’s largest starch production plants would enable the construction of units producing 10-30 million litres of ethanol per annum.
According to Patrick Pitkänen, the goal is to build up to 20 Etanolix plants in Thailand, with a total production capacity of 400 million litres of ethanol annually.
Etanolix piloting, at UBE site in Ubon Ratchathani, will enable ethanol production from starch production’s by-products, i.e. wet pulp. With more than 100 starch production plants in Thailand, there will be more than sufficient feedstock for Etanolix project. If the pilot testing has a positive result, the concept of commercial plants would be potentially applied to other domestic starch plants and nearby counties. This development will add value to this by-product and improve the economics of cassava starch industry, said Daechapon Lersuwanaroj, President of Ubon Bio Ethanol.
Ubon Bio Ethanol operates an ethanol plant with a capacity of 400 000 litres per day, a cassava starch plant with a capacity of 700 tonnes per day and also produce biogas from its wastewater treatment.