Companies Turn Wastewater Cellulose into Ethanol

Recyllose™, a recycled solids-based material produced from municipal wastewater, can now be turned into fuel for cars, according to Applied Cleantech and Qteros, the advanced biofuels company whose breakthrough Q Microbe™ technology can turn biomass into cellulosic ethanol.

Qteros has entered into a joint development project with Applied CleanTech (ACT), a commodities recycling company based in Israel, to use ACT’s Recyllose™-based feedstock, produced from municipal wastewater solids, for even more efficient and low-cost ethanol production. ACT's Sewage Recycling System (SRS) produces high-quality alternative energy sources for the production of electricity or ethanol, while reducing sludge formation and lowering wastewater treatment plant costs and increasing plant capacity.

The companies said they are the first to demonstrate commercial success in creating ethanol from the cellulose in municipal and agricultural liquid waste and to offer a process that all municipalities can use to help reduce expenses.

“Our customer is every municipality that has a wastewater treatment plant,” said Jeff Hausthor, Qteros co-founder and senior project manager. “It will provide a value-added product for municipal wastewater plants, thereby making treatment plants much less expensive to run and helping local governments throughout the world with their constrained budgets.”

Israel Biran, ACT’s chief executive officer, added, “It also helps answer the question of what municipalities can do with their sewage sludge, a major challenge now facing every wastewater treatment plant operator.”

ACT has spent six years developing its integrated sewage recycling solution. Its Recyllose™-based feedstock offers high cellulose content and low moisture, facilitating more efficient ethanol production. The SRS is already in commercial use, with facilities in Israel and the United States currently making Recyllose™-based products from sewage sludge and other cellulose-rich waste while reducing sludge output and wastewater treatment plant costs.

By using ACT’s proprietary feedstock, Hausthor said Qteros and ACT’s researchers have found that an ethanol production plant can produce 120–135 gallons of ethanol per ton of Recyllose™.

Since Recyllose™ is low in lignin (a major component of plant cell walls that is difficult to degrade), and lignin can be inhibitory to efficient conversion to ethanol, Hausthor said the material improves cellulosic plant operational efficiency 20 percent over higher lignin content feedstocks.

Qteros Chief Executive Officer William Frey said that with previous technologies, a cellulosic ethanol plant would have to produce roughly 20-30 million gallons per year in order to be profitable. With the proposed Qteros-ACT process, Frey said, production with these economics could be viable at a smaller scale.

ACT President Refael Aharon, Ph.D., said that a wastewater plant that handles 150 million gallons a day (serving a population of about 2 million people) can be sufficient to supply a smaller-scale ethanol plant with cellulose.

Their research has been supported in part by a grant from the Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation. The BIRD Foundation funds joint efforts between Israel and the United States.

Qteros is a venture-backed company committed to delivering innovative process technologies for clean transportation fuels that reduce greenhouse gas emissions at a price competitive with gasoline.Applied CleanTech specializes in recycling valuable raw materials such as cellulose and oil from wastewater sources and recycling them into alternative energy sources, while reducing sludge formation and lowering wastewater treatment plant costs.

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