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Next-generation Enzymatic Biodiesel Pilot Plant Unveiled in Pittsboro, N.C.

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More than 50 attendees turned out for the unveiling of the Biofuels Center-supported mobile enzymatic pilot plant at the Piedmont Biofuels campus in Pittsboro today (16 July 2010). The pilot plant is a collaborative project between Chatham County Economic Development Corporation (CCEDC), Novozymes, and Piedmont Biofuels.

The plant is the first of its kind in the nation. The event showcased the production equipment, which uses enzymes ionically bonded to beads to catalyze waste grease into high-quality biodiesel. The goal for the equipment is to produce biodiesel meeting ASTM standards. Enzymatic biodiesel production is an emerging technology and differs from the more typical method using transesterification.

Enzymatic processing can convert low-quality feedstocks such as fats and oils, brown grease, and DAF sludge into biodiesel with clean co-products. The enzymes in this process, which are supplied by Novozymes, also reduce the product stream clean-up compared to conventional biodiesel production.

In his address at the event, Biofuels Center president and CEO Steven Burke said, “We are proud to be a part of this project, and there will be more outcomes from this enzymatic process. This event illustrates how North Carolina, by smart policy, is committed to growing the biofuels sector.” He continued, “With place-changing technologies like enzymatic biodiesel, our dependence on fossil fuels is eroding.”

Dianne Reid, president of the Chatham County Economic Development Corporation, echoed Burke’s comments, and said, “Chatham County is pleased to be part of this project to reduce our dependence on oil, and what we also like about it is that it’s at a scale that can be replicated across the state.”

Featured speakers also included Novozymes senior science manager Per Munk Nielsen. “We are happy to be partnering with Piedmont Biofuels because its vision of sustainability fits well with Novozymes’. They have a practical approach to producing second-generation biodiesel through new biological solutions,” he said.

Piedmont Biofuels chief of engineering Lief Forer said, “Research into enzymatic biodiesel production has been done for years by academic researchers at small scale, but what makes this project different is we’re developing a process that can be commercialized. The equipment on the skid is a significant step toward commercialization.”

An estimated eight million gallons of brown grease are available in North Carolina alone with another 400,000 gallons of DAF sludge per chicken plant - which is typically composted or landfilled. Enzymatic biodiesel processing results in a cleaner glycerin co-product, reduces or eliminates the use of water and the associated disposal problem, and occurs at a lower temperature compared to competing catalysts. The clean glycerin derived from this process can be used to make a wide variety of products, including solvents and bioplastics. Research from this project will help establish how to make enzymatic biodiesel cost-competitive.