If Pan Gen Global’s plans are carried out, Arkansas rice straw and hulls will soon be the feedstock for ethanol and silica sodium oxide. Pan Gen, a British corporation with a regional office in California, plans to soon open a processing facility in Stuttgart, Ark.
And as global fuel needs continue to increase, Tom Bowers, the company CEO, envisions more facilities in the Mid-South and across the world. Bowers recently spoke with Delta Farm Press about the company’s plans, how the rice waste will be used and how Pan Gen’s technology could positively impact the state. Among his comments:
On making fuel from rice hulls and straw…
“The conversion process will be similar to corn ethanol. We’ll brew (rice waste) just like a beer, extract the sugars and then ferment the sugars.
“But we’ll also have a substantial income from a secondary source: extracting silicates at the front end. Those will be prepared in such a fashion that they’ll go into microelectronics and photovoltaic.
So you’ll be providing material for solar panels?
“We’ll be a major vendor to suppliers that use the silica-based solar panels.
“Our patent on this (refining process) is 10 years old. It was issued in 1998. With the price of fuels and growth of the solar cell industry — and our ability to extract sugars for fermentation into ethanol and the other compounds — our planets have lined up in the last year, or so. It’s been a combination of marketplace forces and the ability of our technology to deliver truly superior quality organic silica and ethanol at a competitive price.
On conversion rates…
“We’ll process a ton of rice hulls into about 440 pounds of silica sodium oxide. When properly processed, that has a marketplace value of about 20 cents per pound.
“Out of about 250,000 tons of rice hulls processed on an annual basis … in the (Stuttgart) factory, we’ll produce saleable products of 152,000 tons of silica/sodium oxide and 12.5 million gallons of fuel ethanol.
How will the rice feedstock come to you?
“We’re negotiating with several mills in the general Stuttgart area for delivery of their excess hulls.
“You can’t afford to haul the (feedstock) very far. (Hauling) rice straw more than 25 miles one-way is expensive.
“Right now, we have plans to build six of these bio-refineries in different areas of Arkansas. The factories to come after the one in Stuttgart will likely be based on an 80/20 split — 80 percent rice straw and 20 percent rice hulls.
“The Stuttgart plant will probably be heavily utilizing — perhaps 100 percent — rice hulls.”
Time frame and site chosen?
“We want to be producing revenue in the Stuttgart by late fourth quarter in 2009.
“There are several sites being considered. We’re taking a hard look at the Stuttgart Industrial Park because it has everything we need — water, sewer, gas, electricity and transportation access.”
In getting a plant set up, are there differences between California and Arkansas?
“Well, Arkansas is open for business. Last September, we met with (Arkansas Agriculture Secretary) Richard Bell. He’s a superior person to work with. He knows everyone in the state who can help move the project forward. He has a knowledge of, and desire, to make cellulosic fuels work in the state. He reflects Gov. Beebe’s attitude towards the business, as well.
“There is a can-do/will-do attitude here in Arkansas that isn’t present elsewhere. That includes California.”
How much rice hull feedstock does the state actually produce?
“Somewhere around 1 million tons per year.
“What we want to do is help rice producers build an infrastructure for harvesting rice straw that they don’t presently have. Over the next several years, that will be developed into the primary feedstock for our ethanol/silica factories. We’re not dependent on rice hulls. We see our entire future based on 90 percent rice straw and the balance in other substrates.
“We believe there’s a tremendous opportunity for our company. There is a chance in Arkansas to develop and refine use of these agricultural wastes, primarily rice straw.”
On longer-term plans…
“If we can develop this in Arkansas, we could export world-wide the design, the ability to finance, the intellectual and developmental know-how and have the leading-edge production of both technology and the utilization of these rice harvest residues.
“Arkansas provides a singular opportunity to supply the world with technology that doesn’t yet exist and isn’t being pursued by a great number of researchers. Most people are looking at (cellulosic feedstocks) like wood chips, corn stover, sugarcane bagasse, or the like.
“The real marketplace, we believe, is in the nearly 1 million tons of rice straw produced annually (in Arkansas).”
On a second revenue stream…
“The largest agriculture product in the world, with the greatest distribution, is rice. The people in all the rice-producing regions of the world have the same problem getting rid of residues. They need to do it in a fashion that doesn’t hurt their production but will, in fact, hopefully enhance it.
“Here in Arkansas, we’ll be a second income stream for rice producers. Several hundred thousand tons of rice straw that isn’t being harvested currently will be bought from them.
“If we can do it in Arkansas successfully — and we honestly believe we can — the technology could be exported to the world. The U.S. produces less than 4 percent of the world’s rice product. Take into account China, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Central America and South America and that’s a huge area that has the same rice production and waste management problems.”
What about other rice-growing states?
“In the U.S. — California, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana — we could have about a dozen plants and not have much impact on the inventory that’s available. We’d just take a small portion — less than 13 percent — of that inventory.
“But the real growth, we believe is outside the country. We visited China last summer and (some Chinese representatives) came to visit us last fall. (When in China) we spoke with small, subsistence farmers and large, large corporate farmers. Using the central government’s figures, the plant we plan to build in Stuttgart could be repeated in China many more times.
“Right up front, they may have that potential. But we don’t have plans to put a facility in China yet. It’s too hard to protect your technology there.”
For more, visit www.pangenglobal.com.