Monday, June 1, 2009

Peggy Korth on Celluose and Cattails

Some excellent commentary on the conversion of cellulose into glucose and thence onto ethanol.. I have not been overly optimistic on cellulose conversion, but recent work is progressing well enough to make one somewhat more positive.

Without question, every agricultural process produces a large amount of waste cellulose. Cheaply converting this into a viable feedstock for at least the production of ethanol must be a priority. If the farm gate price were only sufficient to cover the cost of the labor then the whole industry would be radically changed. input.

I have no doubt that cattail culture will emerge as a mainstay of the agro business world. Peggy’s work is going a long way toward making it practical and showing us how to construct production paddies.

I have also mentioned before that this is a natural crop for the boreal forest. It is also a likely fodder crop for cattle. Thus we have a viable agricultural protocol for the millions of acres of northern wetlands.

Some comment is also made regarding mosquitoes. In the boreal forest, the trick is to do spring fieldwork early and harvest after the first frost. Else where, it becomes appropriate to produce bat sheds at strategic locations around the fields and harvest the guano. Of course you keep up a water flow and encourage natural enemies, but after that you need airborne eating machines and little surpasses the bat.

Cattail Histhings
May 2009

Water Assurance Technology Energy Resources
40 Sun Valley Dr., Spring Branch TX 78070
FAX (830) 885-4827; Cell: (512) 757-4499

Cellulosic processing Question/ Answer from JC: Cattail Histhings often repeats excerpts from correspondence to build our newsletters. Thank you everyone for your input. Messages may be edited so that the intent helps others understand a lesson. “Many people are just like you--they want to know what to do and where to go for help”.

PK Explains: Any natural fiber can be used in cellulosic processing. The scraps from cotton milling may be cheaper and easier to break down. The ratio of lignin to higher potential starch construction within the cells impact cellulosic processing (and pulping when processing paper). Cellulosic processing is not difficult. It is simply expensive.

With enough acid, you can turn most any biomass into glucose. Depending on the lignin content, you will have varying degrees of success. At this time, cellulosic processing is not a part of our cattail conversion interests. Having lost a small fortune backing cellulosic processing technology and understanding the next generation of GMO’s confirms skepticism. At this time STS advisors and consultants serve community projects and farms. We are not currently addressing industrial markets. Cellulosic processing may become cost-effective when oil reaches $200 a barrel. Enzymes are an alternative to the expensive use of acids. Each feedstock requires a different mix. Cattail projects use natural sugars and starches.

An African Contact, SK, Discusses Facility Design and Cost: The context I'm focused on now is the Lake Chad basin, where there are somewhere above 25000 sq Km of cattails desiccating a continent. This is Typha Australis, with a much larger rhizome (perhaps for longer droughts) and hopefully larger yields. I see both large company and village scale use, both for ethanol and for biogas & charcoal.

PK Comments: Work-force costs will influence distillery design. The expense of automation may not be as important in an economy that wishes to employ a greater number of low-wage workforces. Strategically placing production units close to resources saves time and money.

Cattail as Food: SK states… I'm hoping that its food production capacity will also be exploited. Just clearing it will make irrigation work more effectively, and greatly reduce their flooding problems. Keeping the lake and its tributaries clear is what I hope to make profitable through ethanol. Right now, there are clearance efforts in several Nigerian states. As far as I can tell, none of the biomass is being collected and used, so the never-ending nature of its clearance will eventually bankrupt them.

PK Applauds: Yes, yes, yes! The food aspect needs to be re-discovered. It is the harvesting that makes it so very difficult to use natural stands of cattails. Cutting the stalks below water level is the best way to ‘clear’ an area. It may take several cuttings to control/ obliterate a stand.

My unique methodology for growing and harvesting cattails changes the dynamics of using the crop for food, fuel, and fiber/ pulp. Perhaps I will even be recognized for this some day. Since I am not (nor have I previously) made money for my fourteen years of effort, then perhaps, I should be awarded a world peace recognition. Please read the past copies of the newsletters. They are full of practical information to jump start the new enthusiasts.

Beyond Wastewater Remediation to Desiccation: SK Continues… Similar problems are occurring in India, and probably China. Recent contacts in Punjab and Kashmir confirm the role of Typha in their desertification process. My beloved cattails are a desiccation machine.

PK Comments: There are many botanicals filters that remove chemicals or break complex chemical chains. Cattails are one of those miracle workers as are certain mushrooms (fungi). Our work with healthy forests and watershed restoration includes chemical reduction.

RK Likes our Field Pictures: Thank you - that is a good looking field. I believe that one place this will work very well is in the boreal forest. That begs the next question. Have you caught wind of any Russian efforts from past years? This is just the sort of thing they would have been doing and it would be worthwhile to read any of their literature. Regards, Bob

Comment: Please share your stories and knowledge of cattail application. What is happening in Russia?

Rob Asks: I would like to hear from someone who is already producing ethanol from cattails. My question is, how do you control the mosquitoes? I mean, won't acres of stagnant water attract droves of the little disease-ridden pests?

PK Replies: With or without cattail there are pesky insects; A balance with flowing water helps.

The Eternal Student: Cattails are a weed that can grow in many different environs. The study done by my mentor as a DOE ethanol project is given in the book Cattails to Ethanol. During the past season I have been analyzing a cattail environmental literary review at the University of Texas Coastal Studies Labs on various cattail issues including salinity selecting from thousands of academic papers. To access studies, most state-owned university libraries allow citizens to use their reference resources as well as hiring an IT person to assist in search and operating the systems. The lab manager recommended Google Scholar as another good resource. Most studies are from three to thirty pages long. I filled several notebooks and thumb drives with information to site in grant writing and funding documentation.

There are many misconceptions about cattails. Cattails grow best in a swale or gently moving small flow. They are highly invasive and support their entire life cycle/ food chain in a natural habitat. We plant ours as a farm crop and recommend using wastewater from a municipal flow or animal feed lot if possible or diverting a contaminated waterway (possible mining small flow) through beds that are designed to make harvesting easier. Fish and amphibians eat mosquitoes.

I do my best to answer questions. However, it would be better to find references through your academic resources. Recently I found thousands of references from the pier reviewed journals in university library Internet reference guides and saved dozens as academic references. Extremely detailed information can be found in Typha (cattail) studies done over the past thirty plus years. Although some funding sources expect recent references, older ones may offer in-depth analysis. Some of the newer ones simply quote the older study.

Proposal on control and exploitation of aquatic weeds by VS, Project Scientist, State Council for Science & Technology in India… This inquiry is with reference to an article on regarding the subject cited above. VS states…You had mentioned production of ethanol from Typha (cattail). This is mentioned that we are having two species of Typha (Typha angustifolia and Typha elephantine) in huge amounts in our Punjab wetlands. I hadvecertain queries:

1. Is the extraction of ethanol possible from the species I had mentioned earlier (available here).

Ethanol can be made from any sugar or starch.

Answer: Yes, the four species of cattails tested in the pilot project all have significant ethanol production potential. However, it sometimes takes a plant several generations to acclimate when moved to a different climate zone. Some species acclimate by the second season.
2. Is this weed a threat to biodiversity (as it inhibits growth of other plantations).

Answer: One of our wetlands experts does not include cattails in their riparian habitats because it can be difficult to control. Because we intend to plant the cattail as a farm crop in flooded fields and harvested with standardized farming equipment, we are not planting marsh land in which the plant would overtake other species. Blown seeds can take hold in most any wet soil.

3. Is it advisable to root out all the Typha available in our wetlands despite that birds use this as a hiding and roosting place.

Answer: You could never root out all the plant. Re-growth will come from an eyed rhizome, a basic unit of vegetative reproduction and blown seeds. However, you could significantly decrease habitat and that may not be wise. Clearing a path in alternating rows every other year should allow wildlife cover and re-growth if you have equipment to harvest the roots in the natural habitat. Uneven stands of plants have greatest biological diversity
4. What kind of machinery is required for ethanol extraction?

Answer: I would recommend a grinder for the rhizomes and a specialized juicing press for the stems. What equipment is available for YOUR scale of production at this time?

5. Do we need some special training for extraction of ethanol from Typha.

Answer: Most likely not if you are already familiar with distilling. You may need special equipment to harvest the rhizomes and pre-process the biomass prior to making your mash. We intend to convert existing technology from the sugar cane industry for the juicing and heavy duty grinding for the rhizomes possibly similar to sugar beet pulping.
Thank you TS for Checking In with Our Cattail Histhing Group. Dug up some rhizomes and found they have a fibrous shell around the starch. I made a couple attempts at processing them for a mash, but the stringy stuff clogs the system. It’s rudimentary right now, and the disposal (an improvised garbage disposal set up for grinding) worked good for potatoes and small chunks of rhizomes, larger chunks were a problem. It was super fun digging them up, really enjoyable on my knees, I need a better way. I have better ways and other options, just need to get to them.PK and the rest of us thank you and look forward to your ideas.

JM and Others Get ready to Produce Ethanol: I'm looking for 6-10 gallons per hour. What part of the cattail does your machinery take?

Answer: A distillery can easily process the beer from a mash at 6-10 g/h. For most of our people mashing the cattail rhizomes is a toughest job. If you are using mature rhizomes, they are very tough and require stages of shedding or grinding. This summer we will be experimenting with new-growth rhizomes anticipating a much easier mashing process. We will most likely first break the rhizomes in a mulching machine. The small mulching machines sold for home mulching are not strong enough for tough old rhizomes--or so I'm told. One of our team members ran a saw mill for many years. I look forward to his practical suggestions. A tub grinder would be great for larger loads. Cutting the rhizomes into small chunks should allow a person to use commercial kitchen equipment.

Concerning the stalks, the only juicing process that I anticipate finding excellent results is thorough my associates that invented the system for pulping sugar cane. They are setting up three systems for the State of California this summer to run various feedstocks. We will send them a few cattail totes when they are set up so we do not have to cross the border into Canada with questionable biomass. I previously reported on the great pulping results from ratting cattails--a primitive way to process paper pulp. Our associate’s method will render a better pulp AND appropriately "juice" the stalks. And then I will report on the sugars in the stalks. We know they are abundant, but bind to the pulped cellulose through primitive juicing methods.

AirCore Progress: The AirCore small scale distillery series are intended to be scaled to meet the needs of the producer: On a small scale that can be multi staged anywhere between 2 and 24 L/h as can the larger units be scaled and operated in tandem. A single 25 g/h unit can be multi-set to produce in multiples of 25 g/h up to 500 g/h very economically, without expensive buildings or real estate. No matter the scale, if it is approached with common sense the cost savings are practical and purposeful. Various feedstocks can be processed.

Depending on the feedstock, availability, pilot project testing, etc. the units may be set up in tandem to produce optimum output and may be operated separately when small volumes are present. With a continuous feed system, you can run various feedstocks in different fermentation batches and COMBINE beer in the distillation process. One of the best parts of the modular concept; no matter the number of units, no matter the front end process, and the feedstocks, the different stages of production can be interchanged and the final product remains the same. Do you need engineering assistance? We look forward to your reply

CD in Canada Understands Sustainability: I just saw an article on the web about a proposal you made about working on cattails for ethanol production. I am very interested in this subject too, but I am having trouble finding good information on work that has already been done in this area. Would you happen to have a list of references or old proposals that could lead me to other information on the subject? I live on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, and even though I think there may be a good market here for ethanol as a transportation fuel, we don't have any producers within an economical shipping distance. If technology for ethanol production from things like cattails can be made economical, I would like to know more.

Survival Foods—Cattail Shoots and Bamboo: The following article may be of interest. However, the cattail rhizome does not require complicated processing as needed in cellulosically processing bamboo shoots. A reader Responds: I think we will be seeing many more suggestions such as this as per the recommendation of David Blume in his brix analysis of various natural vegetation. Bamboo shoots are a food and therefore have nutritive value as a natural sugar or starch. Any vegetation that supplies nutrients i.e. glucose will also be an energy producer

New method of producing bioethanol from bamboo developed in Shizuoka HAMAMATSU, Shizuoka -- A research team at Shizuoka University has succeeded in developing a new technology to efficiently produce bioethanol from bamboo.

The woody grass grows faster than trees, and doesn't cut into food sources like sugar cane or corn, making bamboo an attractive alternative for producing the fuel.

The team, led by biochemical engineering professor Kiyohiko Nakasaki, has developed a method of rendering bamboo into an ultra-fine powder; which, at 50 micrometers, is 10 times finer than that produced by previous methods.

To produce ethanol from bamboo, its plant cell's major fiber component, cellulose, needs to be broken down into glucose, a simple sugar, before fermentation. However, cellulose is hard to break down, and previous efficiency rates only reached 2 percent. With the new method, cellulose can be converted into glucose at an efficiency of 75 percent. The team is aiming to raise that figure to 80 percent.

The method is a combination of various techniques, including removing lignin -- the second-largest component of plant cells -- using lasers, and a more efficient biodegrading process. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and others hopes to boost annual bioethanol consumption to 2.2 million kiloliters by 2030. Japan currently depends on imported bioethanol. Nakasaki's research team estimates that there is about 93 million tons of bamboo in Japan. According to the team, cutting bamboo at a rate of 3.3 million tons or less per year will not harm the ecosystem, and will produce enough bioethanol to cover about 10 percent of the ministry's target figure.

Grow it UP/ Talk it UP--What is holding back any new feedstock? The government primarily supports cellulosic ethanol. And previously due to the efforts of BBI and the RFA the government spent excessive money supporting corn. Why? Perhaps it is because fuel and farm industry leaders are lobbying for what suits the 'big boys' needs more than the needs of the farmer or the public and assuming that bigger is better. Dominance by focus groups that want to industrialize and control energy markets is one thing holding all of us back. However, they did succeed in expanding fuel ethanol markets and availability. Also, not enough farmers are willing to take a chance. The industrial application cost of equipment and the lack of cost effective small and mid-sized processing equipment availability will soon be solved. New designs and systems are now being marketed. Sustainable Technology Systems intends to join the marketing offering systems at about 33% less than competitors.

How Sweet It Is: AC writes--Thanks for forwarding information on sweet sorghum. I have a login to their web site, but am not an official member, so am not getting the presentations. The information is very good. It appears that most everything could soon be in place to add sorghum as an energy crop. What do you think is holding up the actualization of this technology?

PK Suggests: Without subsidies the margin-of-profit is not quite high enough for investor funding of large projects. Co-product support can tip the scales in behalf of production. Hopefully we will witness a new influx of small and mid-sized production facilities and a new paradigm in pulp and fiber application. Unfortunately, we need new innovation in the pulp and paper industries to support small-scale production of products as well. Industrialization is good up to a point—and then we need to scale systems back down to cottage industries. (My opinion)

Ideas for Starter Beds and Proof-of-Concept: Seeding a saturated growing beds can be effective. Try building an elevated growing bed with about twelve inches of soil--only half of which needs to be above ground if it makes it easier. Control the moisture with a breathable plastic cover (remay). Transplant the shoots in a hospitable spring-time area. Cattails like a slight flow of nutrient rich water once they sprout.

Below Grade: To facilitate easy flow through, we will lower our beds below grade and simply cut off the water supply to harvest the rhizomes.

Roots, Rhizomes, and Seeds: Our propagation specialist uses a sterilization technique to assure crop success when planting seeds. In our summer project we intend to experiment with seeds, cut up rhizomes, and various nutrients including cattail mulch. Please know that what works in one region may differ in another. Please share your trials.

TS Says Thanks for the Info: I agree entirely with a free transfer of ideas and information. The focus on getting wealthy needs to be tempered with an eye towards survival, and not just making the world into haves and have-nots. I’m not saying that everyone gets everything for free; people need to earn some things in life through sweat and mental exercise. If a person works at it he should be allowed to succeed, not like crabs in a bucket where the others will pull the one climbing out back in, but not a handout either. It’s got to be both ways, and improving for everyone you improve things for yourself.
PK: Great comment… Thanks

AH Looks to Technology: Thanks for information! The same day (25.02.2009) Novozyme A/S released news that they have cost effective enzyme complex for biomass hydrolyze which will be available commercially 2010. Let’s wait and see. If you have any "backdoor" to this new product I would be interested.
PK Encourages Novelty: Yes, this is the same presentation that was given at the RFA annual conference I attended in San Antonio TX. Please contact me to share your potential for receiving the product through your local approved channels. The company is most interested in novel applications. Wheat straw is being both tested and applied in a number of locations. Do you have another steady supply of a feasibly good biomass? However, natural yeasts can do a great job on starch–rich and sugary feedstock without the expense of cellulosic processing.

As I mentioned previously, the American Cultures catalog represents about three dozen cultures tested to produce significant cellulase. As stated by the Novozome people, combinations of cultures can produce various effects. Also, the sources of the cellulase producing microbes are quite common.

A good lab tech can isolate a strong culture and come up with a new variety of enzymes right in your neighborhood. Readg Lynn Margulis’s work on Five Phyla. There are an infinite number of microbes and combinations of microbes. The labs that pay big bucks to researchers do not need to be the only players. Their organization allows them to play political games and garner government funds. However, people like you and me can also come up with workable systems and they do not need to be genetically modified. Hazards are not limited to GMO’s either. It is wise to have enough background to be cautious and apply good technique.

AH Understands Economics: When you buy enzymes you are buying activity units and not the weight (powder) or volume (liquid). It means that enzyme with activity 1 mln/g at price 10 USD/kg is cheaper than same enzyme with activity 0,5 mln at price 7 USD/kg. The raw material I am working with is local wheat straw. The pretreatment is lime pretreatment because lime is cheap chemical and easily recoverable by blowing fermentation byproduct CO2 through limewater. The very important step we have found is biomass "wash" after pretreatment. It greatly improves following enzymatic hydrolyze and brings down acid quantity for alkaline neutralization.

PK Discusses RFA Presentations: The Genecore people stressed this alkaline neutralization and it was also mentioned by the Novosomes people. The new 1500 series is more tolerant to pH swings. Different feedstocks respond to pH differently as well. And so you create a biological soup that is unique for each feedstock and each enzyme producing microbe or combination thereof. A voracious person carefully guards his formulae and intends to become a billionaire—or is that careful people greedily guard their findings depending on investments, investors, time and wit. (Inventors want to skip the millionaire stage now days.) Open source is good, yet the investigator also has to make a living. Propagation of pure strains requires good lab technique with appropriate back-up cultures AND the ability to create the same results consistently. My mentor required FIVE consistent tests to approve a technique. Three times repeated is also acceptable in proposal writing.

Even when training people to build cultures ‘in house’ a natural decline in potency is not unusual. Back when I was working with building a business model for production facilities, the primary concern was in keeping the cultures both clean and secure. A number of pirates came to visit and offered money pending our going to their property and setting up a demonstration in their lab. Ha!

What I see happening with the two lead cellulosic processing companies is that they do not have the staff or money or time to go through a multitude of test regimes. Because they want to branch out, they are willing to enter into contracts with qualified investigators to forward their basic foundation. Now, I do not know what will happen if you (me) the investigator take the product to a new plateau. But I can guess.

If you really want to set up a test regime and have appropriate facilities, let’s talk. If you read the archives, I have given enough information in the past to pique the imagination for personal investigation. And I believe that a number of readers have begun their independent studies. However, no one has shared back with me or the forum. This is human nature. And the ego will say, “I am the creator,” even if someone else sent the recipe and the culture.

Cellulase is a very common enzyme. I read cellular biology texts; industrial microbiology texts, biochemistry works, and anything that I think will trigger an idea or inspiration. And I share my inspirations with our team—you have to trust someone. Most of the people within our circle of trust weathered the storm from the previous fall-out. Yet, time and money are tight for everyone, and so we move very slowly. First I recommend that in inquirer studies a glossary of terms--definitions beyond the first line. Then seek to apply that definition to another process. Ah ha! Ahhhhhha, Ha, Ha…We got it!

It is important to keep the channels open even when sharing back in an open source relationship. Like Gilles said, he needs to patent the simple AirCore process not because he intends to keep it under his control, but so that someone else does not attempt to control his technology. His advanced systems will be marketed by STS.

AH Asks: If somebody knows other commercial high activity enzyme producers please share your knowledge.

PK Replies: Sprouted seed has very potent enzymes—especially when applied to the same biomass from which it originates. Genius is said to be 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Thanks to everyone for experimenting and sharing. You do not need to distill to do bench testing of a mash. Please consider bench-testing a couple of nights a month instead of watching TV or going shopping or whatever time-consuming activity cuts into your creativity. Understanding the work space of great minds lets us know that it is not necessary to have an expensive set-up to investigate a process. Good technique, however, is necessary. Be careful and HAVE FUN!

Highlights from Terra Preta: Magic Soil of the Lost Amazon: STS propagation specialist, Dr. Haard is a member of a BioChar study group. This group includes a number of academic researchers that intend to build productive soil as is found in previously occupied areas of South America. February 2007 Acres USA published Terra Preta: Magic Soil of the Lost Amazon by Allan Balliett that gives a historical overview of a very advanced culture that did not survive the colonial period of Europeans. Hopefully many of you will find this article and apply the techniques to your growing beds when you choose to build new soil. Ben Bof teaches this ancient technology in Brazil. Additional information may be found by a search for BioChar.

My next challenge is to promote saturated soil. The addition of charcoal will help. We also seek to learn more about gasification of invasive species of woody biomass. However, using this same wood as a charcoal additive could be an alternative technique. There is always room for more than one application of a resource.

Making Charcoal: My rancher friend and I would rather sit and watch a sunset and chat about ranch life than watch television. Last month, we relived her childhood memories of the local charcoal maker. Back when cedar choppers axed the post for cattle ranchers, real sustainability was practiced in our hill country area of Texas. One family of Mexican heritage supplied the charcoal for the trade area. Abuelo’s charcoal was preferred because it was consistent in texture with large pieces and easy handling. Although she was only a young girl when she visited the charcoal ranch, my friend recalls the following:

Mr. Avila stacked the wood sequential teepee shapes, one on top of the other until he created a structure about three or four layers thick. Then he carefully patted a clay/ mud over the stacked wood and lit the fire through a small opening on the bottom. Charcoal making requires a high heat without a flame.

Sooo… what does this have to do with anything? In the article on Terra Preta, archeologist are finding shards of pottery mixed within the fertile charcoal laden soil. At first they thought it pottery was dumped as a garbage receptacle. However later revelations showed that the pottery helps to direct and hold moisture. Perhaps, they also made their charcoal by covering it with a clay mud that produces a type of pottery residue. In the present day charcoal production facilities in South America they use a pit and not pottery.

Foreign Fields: Friends from abroad have questions about shipping Cattails to Ethanol Books.

Shipping Answer: Estimating a standard postal service shipping box is the best economic deal when shipping to a foreign country. The costs of sending one book or a stack of books is often the same. More to come next month…. Best wishes, Peggy Write Me!

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