The late Andrew Rafferty found a way to use high-pressure steam to change the molecular structure of biomass. “It basically breaks open the cells of living materials,” Lauer said.The Kearney plant will have a closed-loop system from which the only emission is steam. “The finer the powder, the better the product,” Lauer said. “…So we will try to capture every particle because it has value.”Rafferty experimented with wood almost exclusively for the first five years before working with other biomasses, including distillers grains that had to be in the dry form to import. “In a full-sized plant, they’ll use the wet distillers,” Lauer said.”We do not know if there will be a long-term relationship between the plant and KAAPA Ethanol,” she added, acknowledging the several other area ethanol plants that could provide distillers grains.
Lauer described the Kearney Xylemer plant as an initial production facility that will process about 8 million pounds of fine powder annually that will be sold — there already is a letter of intent to buy in hand — to resin compounders. They custom mix powdered components and turn them into pellets for plastic industry buyers.Lauer said the company’s goal is to build a full-size 40-million-pounds-a-year plant in a state such as Ohio that is closer to the end users, but still has ethanol production sufficient to provide the distillers grains required.A full-sized plant may have technologies to reuse the steam to create a fully closed-loop system.
Once such a plant is commissioned, the Kearney facility would continue to test the high-pressure steam process on other biomass products such as corn and soybean stover, sugar beat pulp, and maybe nut shells, Lauer said.When asked about any potential impacts to the critical central Nebraska balance between corn, distillers grains and cattle, she said maintaining that balance is another reason Xylemer officials may look farther east for sites to build full-size plants.”We have the cattle here and a market for distillers … so it’s important that we don’t compete with the cattle producers,” Lauer said.