WASTE2BIO project - From the organic fraction of the MSW to bioethanol through the PERSEO process

The management of the vast quantities of municipal solid wastes (MSW) that we generate daily is one of the major environmental challenges of our society. Many are the initiatives and projects that are being initiated to transform waste into resources following the premises of the circular economy. Taking advantage of the recent news about the launch of the project WASTE2BIO, we are going to approach to an interesting proposal to valorize the organic fraction of the MSW.

PERSEO Bioethanol® process

PERSEO Bioethanol® is an innovating technology, developed by IMECAL, to transform the organic fraction of the MSW into ethanol and an organic solid of high heating power able to generate thermal and electric energy (CHP) or biomethane and biofertilizer (anaerobic digestion).

IMECAL started the PERSEO project in 2003 with the cooperation of CIEMAT, Ford España and different scientific teams nationally and internationally. Three years after, IMECAL built a pilot plant in its L´Alcúdia facilities. The plant had the purpose of validate and demonstrate the process and determine its profitability at preindustrial scale.

Figure 1. Schematic diagram of the PERSEO Bioethanol® process (courtesy of IMECAL)

The demonstration plant is fitted with the reactors, fermenters, separation and distillation units required to obtain bioethanol from the organic fraction of the MSW. It also has analytical support labs. The process is designed to work continually and comprise the following stages:
1. The feedstock is subjected to a pretreatment to remove the inert materials contained in the organic fraction of the MSW, such as stones, plastics, metals, glasses…
2. Through thermochemical hydrolysis with diluted acid, cellulose and hemicellulose are solubilized.
3 After the hydrolysis of the substrate, a simultaneous saccharification and fermentation (SSF) process is carried out. The saccharification of the cellulose and the fermentation of the glucose to ethanol happen in the same fermenter, adding enzymes, yeasts and nutrients to the efficient conversion of sugar into ethanol. Enzymes are provided by Novozymes.
4. The broth obtained is distillated and dehydrated to concentrate the ethanol produced by fermentation.

During the demonstration stage, improvements have been implemented in the process and the pilot plant. The processing capacity has been increased until reaching 25 tons per day with yields of bioethanol conversion higher than 75%. The technology is totally compatible with existing MSW treatment plants and it is possible to deploy it before incineration, anaerobic digestion and composting, due to its compact modular design. In this way, waste treatment value chain grows and the economical results of the management improve.

Currently, studies are being performed to include the process in MSW facilities at industrial level. Moreover, IMECAL is participating in projects intending to take the process to the next level. One of them is the WASTE2BIO project that will be introduced in the following section. The other one is URBIOFIN project (BBI JU 2016, DEMO) that will be launched soon. In both projects, investments will be made to improve the existing plant and introduce new modules for the integral valorization of the wastes.

The WASTE2BIO project 

The WASTE2BIO project started last month with the kick-off meeting held in the IMECAL facilities. Main data about the project are summarized in the next table.

Valorization of urban WASTEs TO new generation of BIOethanol (WASTE2BIO)
To demonstrate and validate a global process of energy recovery from the organic fraction of the MSW through its transformation into bioethanol (PERSEO Bioethanol® process) and biogas, decreasing the energetic cost and the impact during its treatment.
ERA-NET Cofund Bioenergy Sustaining the Future 3 (BESTF3) of H2020
IMECAL (Spain)
Unidad de Procesos Biotecnológicos - IMDEA Energía (Spain)
Unidad de Biocarburantes - CIEMAT (Spain)
Expected impact
It is expected that the costs related to the MSW management diminish in a 20% comparing to conventional treatments, at the same time the volume of wastes sent to landfill are reduced by the valorization in bioethanol, biogas and biofertilizers.
3 years

Several work lines are proposed: improvement of the different processes and stages involved in the valorization of the organic fraction of the MSW (pretreatment, bioethanol production, anaerobic digestion of the waste obtained after fermentation; fertilizers production); validation and demonstration of the process at preindustrial scale; techno-economical and energetic assessment; sustainability and life cycle analysis; definition of the exploitation strategy and the business model. 

Acknowledgements: I would like to express my appreciation to Caterina Coll (CFO and Innovation Manager at IMECAL) for her kind collaboration.

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