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SuGanit systems developing speedier biomass-to-ethanol technology

SuGanit Systems wants to be among the first to produce ethanol from cellulosic biomass the inedible parts of plants and the Ohio Third Frontier Commission is betting it will be successful.

In February, SuGanit, founded in Reston Va., but now growing its presence at the University of Toledo's Center for Technological Entrepreneurship and Innovation, received a $2-million Ohio Third Frontier grant to build a pilot plant using a new pretreatment process that breaks down the tougher parts of plants so that they can be converted into sugars, fermented, and made into ethanol.

It's the third Third Frontier Grant that the company has received or shared since its founding in 2006, says President and Founder Praveen Paripati.

The partnership with the University of Toledo, which developed an early technology for pre-treating cellulosic biomass, has led to continued development of the process and a collaboration that should result in a pilot plant by the end of the year, Paripati says.

Cellulosic materials, unlike edible products, typically take a long time to convert into sugars using existing methods, Paripati says.

"If we don't do some preprocessing it can take a few weeks to a few months to break the biomass down," he says. "So the trick is to find a mechanism by which you can break it down. And break it down without producing a lot of bad side effects. The innovation comes in an ionic liquid pretreatment technology that makes it possible for enzymes to break down biomass into sugars efficiently, within 24 to 36 hours."

The pilot plant is intended to scale up the technology to process about half a ton to one ton of biomass a day. 

"The next scale would probably be 40 to 50 tons a day, a scale which would end up producing a million gallons of cellulosic ethanol or other products. And a larger commercial scale would be anywhere from 500 tons to 2,500 tons a day."

The company currently has four employees at UT and at its Toledo laboratory. Additionally, Paripati says Third Frontier and U.S. Department of Energy grants have enabled SuGanit to fund three students workers. SuGanit plans plans to add eight more as it develops the pilot unit and reaches full operation.

Source: Praveen Paripati, SuGanit Systems
Writer: Gene Monteith
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