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Global Bioenergy Industry News

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Friday, July 16, 2010
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Alion to Analyse Promising Biofuel Crop

US - Alion Science and Technology has been awarded a contract from the Biotechnology Research and Development Center (BRDC) to develop models that will assess options for processing pennycress seeds into biofuels.

Pennycress is a potentially attractive biofuel source crop that produces twice the oil per acre as soybeans but can be grown by US farmers in the winter and harvested in the spring between segments of a typical corn/soybean rotation.

It takes full advantage of existing farm infrastructure without displacing any food crops.

The contract from BRDC is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in support of Arvens Technology Inc.(ATI), which plans to establish geographically dispersed, advanced biofuel production plants using pennycress seeds.

Under the contract, Alion will develop a set of models that will be used to assess the feasibility of various processing technologies, simulate overall process performance and provide an economic evaluation of the costs related to the construction and operation of pennycress processing plants.

Harvested pennycress seeds contain about 36 per cent oil and after oil extraction and conversion to biodiesel, the remaining material, called presscake, can be burned, gasified or pyrolysed to bio-oil.

Both the extracted oil and the presscake become value-added products.

It is estimated that an acre of pennycress can produce 95 gallons of biodiesel and another 95 gallons of bio-oil. In addition to its high yield, it is easy to grow and helps prevent soil erosion.

“Alion’s development of these models will lead to an analytical tool that will help determine specific design features for pennycress processing plants and how to best apply development dollars,” said Damon Griggs, Alion Senior Vice President and Manager of the Business Solutions Group.

“Our scientists and engineers have performed similar analyses for the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, and our process engineering and manufacturing expertise makes us ideally suited to perform this work.

“The results of Alion’s work will help establish the suitability of pennycress for production of biofuels by guiding the selection of equipment and process options,” Griggs explained.

“This work is also important to the agricultural industry as pennycress can potentially generate over $200 million annually in new farm income per million acres cultivated.”

Alion’s work will be conducted at offices near Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Chicago. Similar studies are being proposed to other clients for other feedstock and process combinations to help them evaluate and optimise the economics of their alternative energy strategies, Griggs said.

BRDC is a 501(c)(5) organization that was formed to encourage the development of better agricultural products in the United States by funding and managing research projects at Agricultural Research Service Laboratories and private and public universities throughout the country.

This particular project is being done in support of ATI, an Illinois company that has been established to grow and crush pennycress seeds and make available the oil and remaining de-oiled material (presscake) to fuel and energy companies.

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