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NewEnergyBlue acquires exclusive license for Inbicon’s low-carbon tech

NewEnergyBlue LLC, a US-company developing an advanced biorefinery North Dakota has recently announced that it has acquired "exclusive rights" to Inbicon bio-conversion technology throughout the Americas and will first employ it to turn North Dakota (ND) wheat straw into a high-value, carbon-neutral automotive fuel. The technology license was purchased from Denmark-headed energy utility major Ørsted.

An artist’s rendering of the planned New Energy Spirit Biomass Refinery at the Spiritwood Energy Park, Jamestown, North Dakota (ND). Using around 230 000 tons per annum of cereal straw and corn stover, the plant is expected to annually produce 16 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol and 109 000 tons of lignin pellets (image courtesy NewEnergyBlue).

According to NewEnergyBlue, Ørsted developed the technology over 15 years at a cost exceeding US$200 million, proving efficacy and commercial operation at its refinery in Kalundborg for nearly five of those years.

A number of our executives worked with Ørsted developing this technology. Our engineers continued to optimize the process of the refineries we’re designing today, said Thomas Corle, CEO of NewEnergyBlue.

The company intends to build a series of biomass refineries across grain belts and sugar-growing regions to process agricultural residues like wheat straw, cornstalks, and sugar bagasse, converting them into high-octane advanced ethanol that’s more than 100 percent below the carbon baseline of grain ethanol–more than 140 percent below gasoline.

Our plan is to feed fuel markets in states like California and countries who likewise battle carbon pollution with policies that incentivize low-carbon biofuels made from agricultural residues, Corle said.

But counting carbon isn’t the only way of keeping score.

Using Inbicon technology at the core of our refinery gives a clean process–no acid or high ammonia used–unlike other technologies at commercial scale, Corle explained.

NewEnergyBlue’s refinery prefers high-pressure steam followed by an enzyme bath to break down the biomass fibers into sugars and lignin that are valuable for making liquid and solid biofuels.

Instead of using freshwater, our enclosed-loop design recycles the water from the biomass—about 15 percent moisture—which can produce a surplus of clean water for uses like irrigation. July was Earth’s hottest month on record. As climate change and expanding populations increase competition for water, our refineries can save millions of gallons annually producing renewable fuel, Corle said.

Groundbreaking in 2020

Having cleared a major technology acquisition hurdle, the company now expects groundbreaking for its Spiritwood, North Dakota (ND) refinery in 2020. The New Energy Spirit Biomass Refinery, LLC, a special purpose company owned by NewEnergyBlue and its equity holders that includes regional investors with interest it contributes to the area economy, plans to develop, build, own, and operate a biomass refinery in Spiritwood Energy Park, Jamestown, ND.

The Spiritwood biorefinery is expected to annually produce 16 million (US) gallons (≈ 60.56 million litres) of cellulosic ethanol and 109 000 tons of lignin pellets from 230 000 tons of crop residue. It will convert locally harvested wheat straw, barley straw, and corn stover into sugars, and ferment the sugars into cellulosic ethanol for renewable automotive fuel while separating out the lignin for offsite renewable energy production.

Other outputs are a biogas plant for producing process steam and a potassium-rich nutrient for fertilizing farm fields.

Given current trade policies and the strained margins on grain ethanol, we’re also attractive to first-generation producers for co-locating our biomass refinery. First-gen producers can license low-carbon solutions through us, including a shared CHP unit fueled by our lignin that further reduces their production’s carbon footprint to access low-carbon markets they can’t now, said Corle.

Albury “Bo” Fleitas, NewEnergyBlue’s new President, sees “investor interest picking up—in part due to the tight margins on wind and solar projects, in the main due to projected double-digit returns on equity from our refineries thanks to our sustainable business model and huge market appetite.”

Fleitas has invested in the company, which he joined after managing financing and investor relations for an alternative energy development fund.

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