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BioGasol Uses Pro/ENGINEER to Design

Equipment for Alternative Fuel Sources

Innovative alternative energy company turns to PTC to develop core technology
for bioethanol production


BioGasol ApS, Ballerup, Denmark

BioGasol develops and designs process technologies for the
production of second-generation bioethanol, sometimes called
cellulosic ethanol. This promising source of renewable energy is
based on new technology being developed to derive sugars out
of plant-based biowaste rather than from food crops, and then
ferment these sugars into ethanol.

BioGasol has developed a unique process for

producing second-generation bioethanol.
Above: The pilot bioethanol production plant
at the Technical University of Denmark.

The Challenge: Effectively Produce Bioethanol as an Alternative

Fuel Source

Biofuels, and in particular bioethanol, have gained increased interest recently as alternative
fuel sources. Bioethanol is considered one of the most promising replacements of gasoline, with
the goal of both reducing dependency on oil and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. To
produce bioethanol, BioGasol needed to design an efficient pre-treatment and fermentation
system for processing the raw material that would eventually become the final product.

The Solution: Pro/ENGINEER to Design Key Elements of System

BioGasol chose Pro/ENGINEER, the 3D product design solution from PTC, to design the various
components of the processing plant. Pre-treatment and fermentation units were modeled in
Pro/ENGINEER as part of a demonstration plant for this new technology. The resulting “green
refinery” also had to have the ability to scale in size.

The Result: Early Plan Shows Proof-of-Concept and Scalability

for Mass Production

While BioGasol believes mass production of second-generation bioethanol is approximately

two years away, the company has already developed the complex assemblies that show proof-
of-concept for their design. By using Pro/ENGINEER models, manufacturing partners will even-
tually be able to scale the design from a small demonstration model to a full-size production
version, fully able to process more than 24,000 pounds of raw material – or biomass – per hour.
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Creating Clean Fuel From a Tiny Organism in Iceland

BioGasol was established as a company in 2006 as a spin-out of research being done at the
Technical University of Denmark. This research focused on the activity of an Icelandic micro-
organism found almost two decades ago, which has the ability to convert what are known as “If I were to put one key word
pentose sugars, or C5 sugars, into ethanol. These C5 sugars are not easily accessible, yet the to it, it would be ‘innovation’,
microorganism seemed to hold the secret to making them more readily available.
because Pro/ENGINEER
Rune Skovgaard-Petersen, Engineering Manager at BioGasol, has been with the company
since 2007. He explains how ethanol is created from this tiny organism: “Basically, what would is an innovation tool. But
happen in Iceland was that a leaf would fall into a thermal spring, and then these microorgan- ‘collaboration’ would also
isms would eat the leaf and spit out ethanol.”
come to mind, in that
The Technical University researchers realized they could make minor genetic modifications to
the microorganism, so that it didn’t make any inhibitors for the process. With this research at its Pro/ENGINEER is an
core, BioGasol became one of the few projects around the world creating bioethanol from C5 excellent tool to use in
innovative, cross-functional
Bioethanol is a clear, colorless, flammable, oxygenated hydrocarbon that can be used as a
transport fuel. Up to 5% bioethanol can be included in gasoline and used by any car running teamwork.”
on unleaded gas. Some specially adapted cars, known as FlexiFuel vehicles, can run on 85%
– Rune Skovgaard-Petersen,
ethanol and 15% gasoline.
Engineering Manager,
Unlocking the secret of second-generation bioethanol – known as cellulosic ethanol in the U.S. – BioGasol
is significant because it costs less to produce, does not rely on food crops as an energy source,
and produces even less greenhouse gas than first-generation bioethanol. Conventional bioetha-
nol production from starch-rich crops, such as corn, grain or sugar cane, is well established,
and the industry is growing throughout the world. However, the new process being developed
by BioGasol uses the cellulosic elements, or the basic building blocks of the plant. This means
that instead of using the wheat grain, it is now possible to make bioethanol from the straw
part of the plant. By using agricultural residues, wood, or energy crops – collectively known as
biomass – the production of second-generation bioethanol is a more promising process for the

Harnessing the Potential of Bioethanol

“In order to enter into this cellulosic ethanol business, you need to have different technologies,”
explains Skovgaard-Petersen. “The first step requires what we call a pre-treatment. It’s basically
a wet oxidation, and we have designed some equipment based on the research and solutions
that we have found. One of the next steps in the process is to convert these C5 sugars into
ethanol, using fermentation. And for that, we need a fermentation reactor. We’re working with
Pro/ENGINEER from PTC for developing this kind of equipment.”

BioGasol is a small, still evolving company with 22 employees in Denmark and three people
working in Washington State in the U.S. BioGasol works closely with an American company
called Pacific Ethanol that operates five first-generation, or starch-based, plants.

In 2007, BioGasol, together with Pacific Ethanol (Sacramento, CA), won a U.S. Department
of Energy grant for $24.3 million to build and operate a demonstration plant to be based on
BioGasol technology and located at Boardman, Oregon. In addition, BioGasol won a $5
million grant to develop and mature the technology. And, in 2009, BioGasol was awarded a
The BioGasol process concept: Pre-treatment (pro- $15.5 million grant for building a demonstration test facility in Denmark.
viding access to the sugars), fermentation (making
C6 sugars to ethanol), xylose fermentation (convert-
ing C5 sugar to ethanol), and biogas (converting
wastestream into methane for electricity production
– cleaning water for re-use).
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As the company continues growing and expanding its reach, BioGasol’s innovative technology
is being recognized more and more worldwide. In early 2009, they received the prestigious
Red Herring award for being one of the most innovative companies in the world.

“BioGasol is an innovative company; we have done the research, and now we’re trying to bring
the results of this research out to the emerging market,” says Skovgaard-Petersen. “We’re work-
ing with Pro/ENGINEER as a development tool to guide us in our innovation phase.”

Developing Ideas with Pro/ENGINEER

“At BioGasol, we started out using Pro/ENGINEER as a design tool to facilitate innovation for
the C5 fermentation (Pentose or Xylose fermentation) systems,” explains Skovgaard-Petersen.
“We began by having brainstorming sessions and doing the rough sketches, then we used
Pro/ENGINEER to draft up ideas and see how it works and how it all fits together. Recently, the
design process has taken a form of being more product-oriented and having a product structure
and assembly structure. So, it’s kind of evolved from the creative phase into a more manufactur-
ing-oriented phase,” states Skovgaard-Petersen.

The company believes it will likely take another two to three years before the first commercially
driven plants are in operation. In the meantime, BioGasol must take quite a few small steps in
order to prove the technology.

As the company’s Engineering Manager, Skovgaard-Petersen chose Pro/ENGINEER because it Design Engineer Torben Pedersen working with
was the best solution for the company’s purposes; he also had past experience with the design Pro/ENGINEER – designing a valve solution for a pilot
scale test pre-treatment.
tool. Some of his criteria were that the 3D product design solution they chose needed to handle
both larger assemblies and complex assemblies. Another requirement was that it needed to
have a fairly strict way of structuring the products, not only in terms of product architecture, but
also in having full control, with no uncertainties.

“We evaluated others, including CATIA®, Inventor ®, SolidWorks ® and Solid Edge ®,” Skovgaard-
Petersen comments, “but I was quite confident that Pro/ENGINEER could do the job. It offered
a lot of possibilities in terms of getting creative work done, and also fulfilled our product goals.
That, along with the affordable pricing, is why we chose Pro/ENGINEER.”

Emerging Market: Energy Companies Seeking Fuel Alternatives

With the ongoing depletion of natural resources worldwide, and the continuing rise in fuel
costs, energy giants such as Chevron, BP and Shell are looking at alternative fuel sources as
they plan for the future. Companies already in the alternative energy space, such as Abengoa,
POET Energy, and Pacific Ethanol, are exploring the promise of second-generation bioethanol.
Consequently, both traditional and newer-energy companies may have an interest in working
closely with BioGasol.

The next challenge for BioGasol is to commercialize its innovative products. Going forward, the
company will be taking their concepts and plans, and scaling them to first create a demon-
stration plant, and then, working with manufacturing partners, to create full-scale production
systems that can process more than 100,000 pounds of biomass per hour.

The unique, modulized, continuous pre-treatment test

unit, “Reference 1”, was designed in Pro/ENGINEER.
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In December, 2007, BioGasol was awarded a Danish government grant to build the first demon-
stration plant for second-generation bioethanol in Denmark. This plant is designed for feedstock
flexibility, demonstrating conversion of agricultural residues, such as wood chips and garden
waste, in addition to wheat and barley straw, energy crops and grass clippings from roadsides.
The new plant will be energy self-sufficient, and all process water will be reused. A Danish com-
pany called BornBioFuel, on the island of Bornholm, will begin ethanol production during 2009,
proving that BioGasol’s system for converting C5 sugars into bioethanol is feasible.

Scaling Up by Using Top -Down Design in Pro/ENGINEER

The next step is to take the Bornholm demonstration plant, which can process 8,000 pounds
of biomass per hour, and scale it to larger systems that eventually can handle 24,000 pounds
per hour or more, for commercially viable, full-scale units. Skovgaard-Petersen comments, “In
our world, everything has to be modularized. Because of the modular approach and top-down
assembly with Pro/ENGINEER, we have control over these subassemblies. This lets us have
the confidence that we can quickly scale up to the next level of equipment that we need to
implement. And, we know that, because of the parametric way that Pro/ENGINEER works, it is
something that can be achieved quite easily.”

BioGasol’s expertise in the areas of biotechnology and engineering are positioning the com-
pany for future success in the field of renewable energy. With its proprietary technologies for
pre-treatment and biogas production, and its unique C5 fermentation process, the company
Above: Artist’s rendering of a large-scale, commercial
has harnessed the power of Pro/ENGINEER to design a solution for maximum ethanol produc- bioethanol production plant.
tion with more than 90% utilization of the energy potential in the biomass, and more than 90%
CO 2 displacement.

Skovgaard-Petersen concludes, “Potential solutions to the energy problem need to be explored.

I don’t think there is just one technology that will prevail; I think there will be enough room for a
lot of different energy technologies in the future, and I believe ethanol is sure to be one of them.”

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