Cellulosic ethanol has often been viewed as the class of ethanol with the most promise, as it converts agriculture and forestry wastes, city sewage treatment wastes, and free growing and specially grown grasses, into usable fuel.
While cellulosic ethanol has the advantage of using a variety of materials that would otherwise be waste products, the limiting factors in the industry have been high costs, low conversion yields, and environmentally damaging practices such as excessive water and Hydrochloric acid use.
Israel’s HCL CleanTech has set out to counter the major issues that the cellulosic ethanol industry is dealing with, through its new method of cellulosic ethanol production that centers around a 97 percent conversion rate from biowaste into biofuel, significantly less the HCL and water use, along with a significantly cheaper production cost.
HCL CleanTech revolves around its new technological development that recycles 42% of the HCL it uses throughout the process of converting bio-waste into bio-fuel.
The HCL CleanTech scientists developed a cheaper route to separate and recycle HCL, by devising a proprietary solvent that attracts hydrochloric acid.
They mixed this solvent with the HCL-water solution, and found that the solvent broke the HCL-water bond and extracted HCL from the water solution, then developed a method to get the solvent to release HCL as a gas, pumping it back into the system to break down more cellulose.
Recycling HCL is very beneficial because HCL can be an environmentally detrimental waste product, and is also one of the biggest expenses for cellulosic ethanol companies.
CEO Eran Baniel reported, “The really innovative aspect of what we do is the recovery of the acid, which costs only 10 percent of what it used to cost.”
Another favorable attribute is that HCL CleanTech uses a stronger form of HCL that converts 97% of the bio-waste into bio-fuel. A diluted form of HCl used by other companies, does not convert bio-waste nearly as efficiently, which results in less bio-fuel produced and more waste that needs to be removed from the system.
With two experienced Hebrew University Professors, Avraham Baniel and Avi Eyal, working alongside CEO Eran Baniel, the company seems to be off to a solid start since its founding in 2007.
The unique company attracted interest from a number of companies in the United States, and recently HCL CleanTech received $5.5 million in venture capital from clean-energy investors Khosla Ventures and Burrill and Company to build a pilot plant in the United States.
The notion of turning organic waste into something like fuel is very appealing, but a number of companies around the world are also working to do this, and with ethanol the big questions are always:
- Will there be enough quantity produced?
- Will it be economic feasible to produce and consume?
- Will the process as a whole actually be environmentally friendly?
Ethanol has faced criticism of late (even by Muslim leaders who consider it in principle the same as drinking alcohol, forbidden by Islam) , but it still seems as though if done correctly, the fuel could be a great alternative to petroleum. HCL CleanTech has a new method of production and seems to be tackling some of the major issues in the ethanol field with its unique approach.