Greenbelt to build a duckweed biorefinery supported by AJY Foundation

Greenbelt Resources Corporation (Greenbelt) announced on May 18 the signing of a Letter of Intent by the Andrew J. Young (AJY) Foundation to build a biorefinery in the southeast USA based on Greenbelt’s proprietary ECOsystem technology.

According to the press release, these are the preliminary data about the planned facility:
Duckweed (lemnaceae).
Products and production capacity
Bioethanol: 500,000 gallons per year.
Protein concentrate that will be sold to organic feed mills and food ingredient manufacturers.
ECOsystem biorefinery cost
$5.0 million (over an estimated $14.0 million total project cost)
It is expected to be operational 15 months after breaking ground

The construction of such facility forms part of a bigger initiative called “Duckweed Project” which is aimed to empower small farmers by providing technical knowledge on growing duckweed as a cash crop and selling it as a feed for biorefining. Below, we are going to delve into this interesting initiative and the ECOsystem technology.

The AJY Foundation is a non-profit public charity that supports research and development on new technologies that have the potential to create sustainable jobs and a more equitable society in rural America, Africa and across the globe. In this pursuit, the Foundation is currently focused upon finding sustainable solutions for food insecurity and malnutrition, reengineering traditional agriculture and medicine and inclusivity in the financial system for the impoverished sections of society worldwide.

In this context, the Foundation is boosting a program related to lemnaceae, a subfamily of plants commonly known as duckweed. It is a small, fast growing, protein rich, aquatic plant that floats on the water’s surface. Duckweed, once processed, can produce food, energy, fuels and fertilizers. Moreover, it can help clean-up water. The AJY Foundation believes that duckweed can play a vital role in the quest for answers to the aforementioned problems. On a local scale, duckweed can revolutionize agricultural landscape by providing an alternative cash crop for the farmers that would revitalize impoverished rural communities with new jobs, training, business and educational opportunities.

Figure 1. Nutrient rich duckweed (extracted from the presentation “Duckweed Project – A nutritious solution for humanity”)

So far, the high cost to fertilize duckweed inorganically has made it prohibitive to grow it commercially for producing protein concentrate and ethanol for market demand. The proof of concept phase, leaded by the inventor and thinker Freddie Hebert, of the Duckweed Project showed that it is possible to fertilize the plant in a self-sustaining way at an affordable cost. Protein concentrate is produced by using the corn ethanol process to remove the starch from duckweed. Recycling of the yeast water, after ethanol and solids are removed, to the duckweed growing area makes it possible to grow it twice its normal size with no outside nitrogen. Duckweed doubles its weight every 24 hours and this process is 100% organic.

A USDA-funded feasibility study conducted by Agregy Renewables on behalf of the AJY Foundation outlines a commercialization plan focused on financing and developing as many as 20 more duckweed biorefineries over an eight-to-ten-year timeframe, initially in the southeast and western USA and then across the globe.

Greenbelt and its ECOsystem technology

Greenbelt is a company focused on delivering modular solutions that enable the localized processing of locally generated waste into locally consumed products. Controlled by proprietary automated controls, Greenbelt’s small-scale, end-to-end modular systems convert wastes (food, beverage and cellulosic residues) into commercially viable advanced biofuels, animal feed, fertilizer and filtered water.

The company owns a test facility in Paso Robles (California), known as PRECO (Paso Robles ECOsystem). It is a system designed to produce half a million gallons of bioethanol from a variety of feedstocks available in the Paso Robles area. PRECO utilizes such feedstocks as waste trub from the nearby Firestone Brewery and winery wastes from the over 310 wineries in the local area. The ECOsystem technology can also be custom-designed to transform other feedstocks of local areas into bioethanol and bioproducts.

The feasibility study of Agregy Renewables found that Greenbelt’s technology “has been proven to be very cost effective and energy and operationally efficient at the small scale of operation for the Duckweed Project (…) recent commercial plant installations including Greenbelt’s test-bed facility in Paso Robles (CA) have shown to be technically viable to convert a wide range of biomass feedstocks to ethanol, animal feed and fertilizer.”

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