Wood Waste as a Source of Ethyl Alcohol

Use is therefore made of this scum or “taffy,” as it is called by the workmen on account of its plastic nature when hot, in the manufacture of sol...
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Oct., 1918


Use is therefore made of this scum or “taffy,” as i t is called by the workmen on account of its plastic nature when hot, in the manufacture of solvent esters which are in such demand in the soluble cotton and lacquer industries. The taffy is mixed with ethyl alcohol and sulfuric acid and the resultant esters separated by fractionation. A word now as t o the nature and uses of these solvent esters. Ethyl acetate is an old friend among us. Its use as a solvent of soluble cotton or nitrocellulose in the manufacture of imitation leather, in finishing celluloid, and in a thousand and one other directions are too widely known to need mention. Ethyl propionate and butyrate are not so widely known. Several investigators have mentioned their excellence as solvents for nitrocellulose gums, resins, etc. Worden, in his “Nitrocellulose IndustryY’mentions this fact and states that the only bar to their use is the high price, or that they are not commercially obtainable. Ethyl propionate boils a t I O O O C. and appears to resemble in its properties a mixture of ethyl acetate with about I O t o 20 per cent amyl acetate. Ethyl butyrate boils around 1 2 0 ’ C. a n d resembles amyl acetate very closely in its physical properties. These two esters now produced for the first time in large quantities will doubtless find wide application in the soluble cotton celluloid, artificial leather, paint and varnish trades, where neutral solvents of pleasant odor and possessing a moderately slow rate of evaporation are desired. The use of these esters is also contributing materially a t the present time t o the War Industries Board’s program for the conservation of acetate of lime Special mention might be made of the valerates, caproates, ctc., which are now being isolated in this process. Valerian and its salts and esters are well known t o the drug and pharmaceutical trade, to whom a new source a t this time will be welcome, while the esters of these acids will doubtless be much sought after by the essence and perfume trade. The kelp industry is in its infancy, and although somewhat of a war baby, it has in it the makings of a vigorous adult. Heralded as the savior of potash users, i t has come to the aid of users of high-grade solvents and pharmaceuticals, and bids fair in the future t o continue to develop new and valuable organic chemicals.



Manager, Kinzinger Bruce and Co., Ltd., Niagara Falls, Ontario

For some years we have been hearing more and more regarding waste wood as a source of ethyl alcohol. The amount which is thus being made, however, is still but a fraction of the nation’s supply and within the past few years has not been extended, irrespective of the great and increasing demand which the war has developed. It may be advanced that sufficient capital is available and competent technical skill can be secured and if the proposition is therefore all that has been claimed, the question naturally occurs, why has more rapid progress not been made? Is the proposition fundamentally unsound or does it still offer the very considerable possibilities which have been predicted? We all realize the distance to be traveled between the discovery of a chemical reaction and its successful commercial development and application. In this case, as a matter of fact, IOO years have already elapsed. The pitfalls to be crossed, both technical and commercial, aye legion, and the more unusual, attractive, or revolutionary the proposition may be, the more difficult may its pathway become. Premature development and extravagant or unsound exploitation can prostitute an undertaking, no matter how promising i t may be, and when this occurs


in connection with a process, which has not been already established, disaster is invited. I think I may safely say that such a condition of prostitution represents the present status of this particular industry, and explains to a large extent its present position of apparent stagnation, even a t this time when its further development should offer such unusual opportunities. I n this connection the several company flotations which have occurred have been initiated by promoters having no particular interest in the business itself. This has resulted in only a small portion of the relatively large amount of capital which has been raised in connection with the undertaking filtering through for its actual development. Adequate research has not been undertaken, the plants, which already have been constructed, have been started prematurely in locations having little regard t o the commercial conditions involved, all in order that a rapid showing might be realized, and a quick turn made by the promoters. Any complete consideration of this aspect of the proposition can only lead to the conclusion that the miracle is that anything has survived. The fact, however, that several million gallons of alcohol have actually been produced from this source, and that a t least two plants have been operating more or less continuously over a period of years, irrespective of the technical and commercial handicaps from which they still suffer, justifies the belief that ultimate success is established, and that the undertaking offers much promise for the future. It was originally assumed that almost every sawmill represented a possible location for the establishment of such a plant. Since there were almost innumerable sawmills a t which the disposition of wood waste was a problem, even constituting in most an element of expense, it was also assumed that this material could be purchased a t a purely nominal figure. It therefore seemed logical that favorable contracts for wood waste could be made and having sufficient capital, the company controlling the process could establish an endless chain of plants producing ethyl alcohol, and thus soon secure entire control of the alcohol market. On this basis and plan the business was projected. I t was soon found, however, that while there was no question regarding the number of sawmills or the extent of the wastewood which is produced, there are nevertheless, very few a t which conditions are entirely favorable for the establishment of the extensive plant which the manufacture of ethyl alcohol requires. The life of the lumbering operations may be uncertain, the water supply deficient, labor or transportation conditions unfavorable, or any one of a number of such factors may be found which jeopardize success. The fact that sawdust and all the other forms of waste wood are so bulky and difficult to handle precludes transportation, and therefore confines its processing to the point a t which its production occurs. When approached, the lumberman who has a suitable location soon recognizes the advantage which he enjoys, and any outside company wishing to do business must pay. his price; and if once established, has no other source of supply. It can a t once be seen that any large or general development along these lines was impractical and bound to fail. In the manufacture of our lumber we know that many millions of tons of waste wood are annually produced, and the potential asset which this waste represents is being recognized. If any considerable part of this, however, can be converted into alcohol, there is probably no more important industrial use which it can be made to serve. That this can be done in a limited way has now been completely proved, but in order to greatly extend its application, the development, it would seem, must follow different commercial lines from those along which the start was made. The process which has been developed naturally divides itself into two very distinct and separate steps: We first convert a


T H E J O U R N A L O F I N D U S T R I A L A N D E N G I N E E R I N G C H E M I S T R Y Vol.

certain portion of the wood, amounting to a maximum of about 28 per cent, into soluble carbohydrates which are then separated in the form of a clear solution which normally contains from IO to 1 2 per cent. As a second step, we have the fermentation and distillation of this product for the production of ethyl alcohol. It is not essential that both of these operations be conducted a t one point, since the sugar solution can be evaporated, and then becomes quite the equivalent of cane molasses, which at present constitutes the principal source of our alcohol supply. Molasses, as we know, is transported to, and assembled at the most favorable locations for alcohol production, there t o be manufactured on the largest scale. Applying this same principle, we immediately find that the scope of the wood process is greatly extended. Not only can wood waste be utilized at those comparatively few locations at which suitable conditions for the manufacture and distribution of alcohol are found, but almost every sawmill with an assure? capacity for a reasonable period can he considered as a possibility. A t the most desirahle locations, complete installations for manufacturing alcohol can, of course, be made: a t the others, molasses plants can be installed and their product transported to existing distilleries, or to new ones a t which the product of several such units can be assembled and used. The investment required for such a molasses plant is small compared with that which the complete distil!ery involves, and the importance of this in extending the scope of the undertaking can at once he seen Furthermore, smaller units can be operated economically, less skilled labor is required, and it ioes not come under the exacting regulations and control of the Internal Revenue Department, as is the case if alcohol is produced. Furthermore, if the molasses product is sold to those already engaged in the distilling business, many market and other trade difficulties are removed which only ,those having experience in the alcohol business fully appreciate and which the smaller producer might be unable to overcome. It would seem, however, that proper headway cannot he made in the carrying O L I ~of such a plan unless the lumbermen themselves assume the initiative, or a t least give it their most sympathetic cooperation and support Such a plant, to operate to the greatest economy, should preferably constitute a part of the lumber operation itself, being operated under the same management and on the same premises, thus avoiding all unnecessary handling and storing, as well as duplication of equipment or staff. In addition to this, the lumberman, controlling as he does the raw material. can alone determine and regulate its most economical disposition and use, and unless he is financially interested in the subsidiary company, its supply of raw material can never be fullv assured. The lumbermen, however, are naturally cautious about engaging in enterpriscs apart from their regular trade. In the past numerous by-product ventures which have been taken up in connection with the lumber industry have failed and very few have succeeded. That this has been due either to their being entirely impractical or to incompetent technical advice is probably true, but nevertheless these failures have seriously retarded others from embarking in the like. I n this case, however, the uncertain and costly experimental expense has already been borne by those who have been blazing the trail, and the success of the enterprise, from its technical aspects at least, is demonstrated. I t now remains For some one t o make a fresh start and thus step in and take advantage of the mistakes of the past. I f this is done along sound business lines by one of our progressive lumber concerns, complete commercial success appears inevitable. Should it be found that progress along these lines is blocked, as the result of patents, those controlling such patents would be well advised to accept a n equitable royalty in order that a proper start should be made.

IO, No. I O

Once this step is taken, others will follow, and real headway will then be made. From the lumberman’s point of view, the production of molasses should offer a very strong appeal. While there are at least several profitable uses t o which his waste can be applied, aside from its use as fuel, the others, as far as I know, demand sorting or selection. I n the case of producing molasses or alcohol, any part, or all, of his waste can he used, even including that which constitutes his fuel supply, since the residue left after extracting the sugars, representing 70 per cent of the original amount, is not depreciated in fuel value. In other words, that portion which is actual waste and is being destroyed can be combined with the amount being burned for fuel, and 7 0 per cent of this total still be available for power development. I n considering and comparing the values extracted, i t is therefore necessary to consider also the much larger tonnage which this process utilizes. The cost of production compared with the cost of cane molasses is, however, the vital element upon which this development must ultimately depend. I n June 1913, the costs given below were obtained in the alcohol plant then operated by the Standard Alcohol Company at Fullerton, La. The actual cost of this plant at that time amounted to $456,92046. Of this sum, about $~OO,OOO.O(P represented the expenditure for the plant and equipment involved in the conversion of the wood into sugar and the separation of this in the form of a solution. The balance was required to provide the necessary plant and facilities for fermenting and distilling the latter and converting i t into alcohol. Operations were conducted 2 2 days, a t three-fourths capacity. During this time 6,125 tons of green waste wood, containing 48. per cent moisture, were processed, giving a yield of 1,688,600 gal of sugar solution averaging in strength 10.3 per cent. The cost of processing this, exclusive of the cost of the wood, but including all other material, labor, power, factory and overhead expense, together with proper allowances for depreciation, amounted to a total of $5,371.56 or 31.8 cents per hundred gollons of the strength stated. To convert this into molasses the cost of the equipment for this purpose would have t o be added t o the cost of the plant and the cost of its operation to that of the product. Since the residue from the process, how&er, supplies the necessary fuel, this concentration can be affected a t very little cost. Assuming a concentration of 8 t o I , the resulting 1 2 ~ 1 2gal. of molasses which IOO gal. of the dilute solution will yield, may b e figured a t 2.5 cents per gal. or say 3 cents, including the evaporation. This is, of course, a lower figure than that a t which cane molasses has been sold in recent years and very much lower than any price which may be expected to prevail in the future. What this price may be is problematical, but 12 cents is probably none too high. When we compare the fermentable contents of the product of this run with that or cane molasses, the showing is not so favorable. During the month the average production of spirit amounted to only 4.87 proof gal. per IOO gal. of dilute solution. Using this same percentage, a gallon of wood molasses would yield only o .39 gal. of proof spirit, whereas cane molasses yields practically gallon for gallon. This gives a cost of 7 . 7 cents for wood molasses to yield the spirit given by a gallon of cane molasses. While even on this basis it appears that a profit is fully assured, the result which this comparison gives is far from representing the best which can be obtained since the quality of this product was poor. From the figures given it can b e calculated that only about 8 . 5 per cent of the dry wood was converted into sugars which were fermented, although approximately 24 per cent of the wood was extracted in the solution obtained. It has been repeatedly demonstrated, however, on both large and small scale experimental operations, that 26 to 28 per cent of the wood can be converted into water-soluble

Oct., 1918


carbohydrates as a result of simple acid hydrolysis and that under the best conditions over 80 per cent of this is obtainable in the form of fermentable sugar. In place of realizing this result, not over 5 0 per cent of the water-soluble carbohydrates obtained has actually been fermentable in the product of the plant which I have mentioned, and the average has been less. It remains to translate such experimental results, depending as they do upon the conduct and control of the chemical reactions involved, into commercial practice. To do this requires little change in the mechanical methods of handling which were used a t Fullerton and largely developed by myself. The mechanical efficiency of these is indicated by the very low per gallon cost which I have given and which there is no reason to believe should he increased in effecting the much more complete hydrolysis which i t is easilv possible to obtain. That this has not already been done, I attribute principally to patent conflict which has directed this development along unnatural lines in the effort to avoid infringement and permit exploitation. I n undertaking any new installations, however, if full advantage is taken 01 existing knowledge and the experiences of the past, the production of a wood molasses equal to cane molasses in fermentable value is assured, and a t a cost per gallon which certainly should not exceed that of the low-grade Fullerton product which we have considered. Thrt lumberman already can see a limit t o his timber supply, and i q rapidly being forced, for this reason, to recognize the necrssity of conserving all that is left. Nevertheless, he is still burning 5 0 per cent of his logs either under his boilers, or in hie refuse destroyer. Every ton of this waste can be made t o yield over 30 gal. of molasses without disturbing in any way

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existing methods of operation, unless it be that of the expensive dest.royer which every large sawmill still maintains. Allowing but 3 cents per gal. profit on the molasses which can thus be made, this would be equivalent to a n additional profit of almost $ 2 . 0 0 per thousand feet of lumber, a n amount probably quite equal to the average profit normally realized on the lumber itself. I n this, it would appear that we may have an almost unlimited source of molasses within our reach which the distiller can readily convert into the highest grade OF ethyl alcohol without any, or little, modification in the equipment which he already has a t hand. With drastic prohibition as a probability of the future, as well as the necessity of conserving everything which can be used, either directly or indirectly, for food, this should offer a means by which the distilling business can readjust itself t o meet these conditions, and at the same time provide alcohol in such quantities and on such a basis that its much wider industrial application becomes a possibility, with all the consequent commercial advantages t o which this would lead. With proper cooperation to this end between the lumber and distilling interests, it should be possible t o rapidly realize this condition to their mutual advantage, and a t the same time release for other use the immense quantities of food products now used for alcohol production. When the facts which I have attempted so inadequately to present are more fully recognized and the proposition is taken in hand by those having a vital interest in its development and success, it may be expected to become a business of the greatest magnitude and importance, and wood waste should become the principal source of ethyl alcohol.

CURRENT INDUSTRIAL NLWS Ry A. MCMILLAN,24 Wcstend Park St., Glasgov, Scotland

IRON AND STEEL INDUSTRY IN JAPAN The British Commiss oner a t Seoul writes that, in order t o encourage the iron industry in Corea, exemption from import duty on coal, machinery and implements imported for the use of iron foundries, has been announced by the Governor General The total quantity of iron ore now obtained in Corea is put at some 2 0 0 , 0 0 0 tons a year and a large output of pig iron and steel is expected from the new foundries in the Chinnampo d:strict which are now on the po,nt of completion. The annual output of pig iron from the new Mitsubishi Foundry there, which has just started operations. is estimated a t IOO,OOO tons, of which 50.000 tons will be made into sted.

GOODS IN DEMAND IN AUSTRALIA I t seems scarcely necessary to enumerate the very large variety of goods which have been getting in short supply in the Commonwealth, says the Times Trade Supplement. as a result of the interference with normal trade. Australian importers wouid now welcome the largest possible consignments of building materia’s, ironmongery, tools, locks, aluminum ware, hollow ware, and hardwfare lines generally. I t may, therefore be imagined what the demand will amount t o when buiiding operations are resumed after the war. Again, in connection with the expansion of industry generally, which has been mentioned above, eager inquiries have been in the market for some time past for all lines of industrial chemicals used by brewers. tanners, soap manufacturers, textile mills, photographers, etc , invluding such articles as litharge, tartaric acid, citric acid. soda, dyes, waxes. As regards soft materia‘s, an absolute shortage of silk goods was reported recently from Sydney, while buyers in that city and in Melbourne have been clamoring for means of rep’enlshing their stocks .of cotton piece goods, woolen goods. linings, handkerchiefs, shirtings, hosiery, and

many other such articles. Jewelry, cutlery, glassware and fancy goods are also in demand.

JUTE PRODUCTION IN CHINA According t o returns of the Chinese Maritime Customs, t h e export of jute from China amounted to 94,481piculs (picul = 133*/a Ibs.) in 1916. Of this amount 67,000piculs were shipped from Tientsin, North China, 15,000 from Hankow, Central China, and 13,000from South China. A small amount was also exported from Manchuria. It is probable, however, that a considerable proportion, if not all, of this jute is in reality “Abutilon” hemp, the two plants being constantly confused by the Chinese. The Ministry of Agriculture can give no information which locates the area of production of jute with any accuracy. According to catalog of the Vienna Exhibition, jute fiber is produced in China and is exported from Shanghai. It is also mentioned as being cultivated near Canton, in t h e Province of Szechuan and in the Yangtse Valley.

CRANES AND TRANSPORTERS I n a catalog issued by Sir William Arrol & Co., Ltd., Glasgow, illustrations and short descriptions are given of shipbuilding cranes and shipbuilding berth equipment manufactured by them. The first part deals with various types of derrick and tower cranes, and the pictures represent installations of such machines in various important shipyards a t home and abroad, while the second gives brief descriptions of various arrangements of cranes for building and fitting out ships in covered and uncovered berths in which the Olympic and her sister ships were constructed. Another list from the same firm shows installations of different types of Ternperley transporters-some mono-rail, others fixed, others moving on rails, and others designed t o be fitted in ships-which have been erected in various parts of the world for handling coal and other materials.