Researchers at Luleå University of Technology receive a grant from the Swedish Energy Agency to develop processes for large scale verification of butyric acid based on biomass. This project complements the ongoing biofuel research at the ethanol demo plant in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden and also demonstrates a wider application field of the plant.
- The real advantage is that you get “biobased” butyric acid, a so called green chemical which has a wide range of applications with a direct market, says Kris Berglund, professor in Biochemical and chemical process engineering at Luleå University of Technology.
As far as Kris Berglund knows this is the only large scale demo plant in Europe where butyric acid is produced. There are many applications for biobased butyric acid including the food and cosmetic industries. Butyric acid can also be used for manufacturing of plastics. “Chemicals derived from biomass” is an area developing faster than “fuels from biomass” and, according to Kris Berglund, there are strong economical arguments for that development.
The new research project is part of the strategic research project Bio4Energy in which Luleå technical university participates. The LTU-researchers will perform their tests in close collaboration with the Clean Tech company SEKAB which runs the demo plant. The researchers describe their research and the demo plant with an analogy:
- I think you can make the analogy that the demo plant is the hardware and the organisms you put in are the software, and depending on which organisms you use different products can be made, says Ulrika Rova, associate professor in the University's Division of Sustainable Process Engineering.
The thing is that from lignocellulose, which besides wood also may be residues from forestry and agricultural industry, get various sugars that can feed the bacteria and turn into butyric acid.
- The challenge is to make the bacteria utilize the biomass efficiently so that as much as possible of the raw material is converted into products, i.e. including waste material from the forest-, agriculture- and paper industry, says Magnus Sjöblom, PhD at the Division of sustainable process engineering, LTU.
To extract the sugars, the biomass is pretreated by SEKAB in a chemical process, with dilute sulphuric acid, referred to as hydrolysis. By using the resulting hydrolysates good results have been achieved in lab-scale.
- We have used the hydrolysates to investigate if the bacteria can make butyric acid from it and it turned out very successfully, Magnus Sjöblom says.