Auburn University partners with waste disposal service provider Masada to develop technology that converts pulp and paper mill waste into ethanol

Pauline Vu

Pauline Vu

Jul 12, 2010 – Auburn University

AUBURN, Alabama , June 16, 2010 (press release) – A sponsored research agreement between Auburn University and an Alabama company has spawned patent-pending technologies for the production of alternative fuels from waste streams.

Under an agreement with Masada Resource Group, researchers in Auburn's Department of Chemical Engineering have developed a series of technologies that utilize waste streams from pulp and paper mills and convert them into high-value products. Professors Harry Cullinan, Gopal Krishnagopalan, Y.Y. Lee and senior research fellow Sung-Hoon Yoon, along with several graduate students, developed methodologies to extract fermentable elements of current waste streams for possible conversion into ethanol.

The work of Cullinan, Krishnagopalan and Yoon focused on diverting hemicellulose from liquor waste streams. Unlike cellulose, hemicellulose is easily fermentable into ethanol for fuel purposes, and the novel process allows for recovery of this material without degradation of the mill's final pulp and paper products. Initial estimates indicate that if all U.S. pulp mills converted to this process, an additional two billion gallons of ethanol could be produced per year, entirely from waste streams.

Lee's work focused on converting waste sludge into useful products, first by improving fermentation yield, and also by using the sludge for producing enzymes critical for biofuel production. Such processes could increase the potential annual ethanol production over and above the projected two billion gallons.

"These projects bring together several areas of focus and expertise at Auburn, and show how they can bring benefit not only to Alabama, but to the world," said Cullinan, who also serves as director of the Alabama Center for Paper and Bioresource Engineering.

"Masada is very excited about advancing these technologies into the commercial marketplace," said Donald Watkins, CEO of Masada Resource Group. "They fit in perfectly with our goals of converting existing waste streams into renewable energy sources."

Patent applications have been filed for all of the technologies, and a license agreement has been executed between the parties, with Masada committing to developing the technologies and providing a future royalty stream to Auburn.

"This is a textbook example of how Auburn can work with an industrial partner such as Masada," said John Weete, Acting Assistant Vice President for Research for Technology Transfer. "From sponsored research, to collaboration, to licensing and to commercialization for public benefit, this is a demonstration of how all the steps of the process can come together."

The Masada Resource Group LLC was founded to explore, develop and deploy a stable recurring revenue business that responds to the demand for environmentally beneficial waste disposal and renewable energy. All projects were funded at least in part under the sponsored research agreement between Masada and Auburn University.

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