A consortium from Industry partners, Scion and AgResearch, and Verenium (USA) undertook the initial screening and subsequent laboratory work that showed it was possible to produce ethanol via enzymatic hydrolysis of cellulosic material (i.e. wood residue). From these results, the Beca AMEC team co-developed the models to represent the potential process.
This entailed several months of ground breaking work by a combined team from Beca AMEC, Beca and AMEC to produce technically credible options to manufacture ethanol from the wood residues of New Zealand forests.
The work is conceptual at this stage but two practical methods have been identified which, with some further optimisation and development, will potentially meet the economic targets.
The key feedstock is wood residue, the material waste that is left on the forest floor once the trees have been harvested. Up to 20% of a forest is not collected and used, so this process will allow more of the forest to be used, plus could contribute a significant amount to New Zealand’s ethanol fuel needs if it goes ahead.
Ethanol is expected to be one of the dominating renewable biofuels in the transportation sector in the next 20 years. It is currently available on the world market, produced mainly in Brazil from sugar beet and the USA from corn. Only a small number of demonstration wood-based plants presently exist.