A central issue of the food vs. fuel debate has long been the use of farmland for growing crops for biofuels. With the creation of the first self-powered modular cellulose ethanol refinery, this issue might finally be put to rest.
Allard Research and Development has created the self-powered refinery by incorporating the cellulose feedstock into the actual system by growing them in hydroponic shipping containers. Adam Allard, Founder and Chairman states that “historically, the big limiting factor for people wanting to make their own ethanol fuel has been a lack of abundant feedstock. Now it comes with the system.” These modules can then be networked together to increase the size of the refinery without losing any efficiency. A standard 20-gallon-per-hour module with feedstock grow containers will have a 3,600 sq. ft. footprint, much smaller than traditionally grown feedstock and requiring much less space.
The process inputs the seed and outputs ASTM fuel grade ethanol. The refinery itself is a tight integration of the engine, generator and distillation system. Waste heat from the engine is used during the distillation process and creates enough electricity to power the entire plant. The engine itself runs off of a gasified waste from the cellulose conversion process, thereby creating a closed loop system and reducing the amount of waste the refinery outputs.
The refineries themselves combat typical fuel production models of larger refineries by creating numerous small plants that are not dependent on significant structure or geographic location. This eliminates costly logistics, materials handling fees and corn/other feedstock from the equation, making this ethanol much cheaper in the long run.
The EPA and USDA are funding this process, with the hopes of installing 10,000 across the US in the next five years. Allard plans on the first refinery go into production by 2012, though it is currently beta testing the refinery with several clients.