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Converting Paper Mill Waste to Bioplastics and Ethanol

Company Name: Avatar Sustainable Technologies
Program Office: Bioenergy
Location: Syracuse, NY
Website: N/A
Email: Bhavin Bhayani, Co-founder;
Award Amount: $200,000
Project Term: 12 months
Project Status: Active
Participating Lab(s): National Renewable Energy Laboratory


Petroleum is ultimately derived from very long biological and geologic processes that have turned once living matter into a fossil fuel. Creating cellulose based ethanol and bioplastic from non-petroleum based raw materials requires finding a financially effective way to break down biomass into fermentable sugars and a ready supply of cheap materials to convert into products.

Avatar Sustainable Technologies has developed a way to economically use waste from paper mills to produce industrial grade fermentable sugars. This paper mill waste could offer cost reductions of 30 percent in capital and 40 percent in operating costs compared to current methods, according to a recent National Renewable Energy Laboratory study.

Sugars derived from this waste can be used to produce an array of biochemical products currently manufactured using petroleum. This project could divert a significant solid waste stream of approximately 103 tons per day from landfills to sustainably produce biofuels and other biochemicals. Avatar has demonstrated the efficient production of sugars, and their conversion to ethanol and polyhydroxyalkanoates at laboratory and pre-pilot scale. Partnering with the lab would allow the company to pair its hydrolysis of fine particles process with CeIA enzymes developed by the lab's team. With its unique capability, CelA will be able to hydrolyze through the more crystalline nature of waste.


Agricultural residue and woody biomass to produce cellulosic fermentable sugars are being used by others in the market, and this requires procurement, preparation, and costly processes to convert them. Paper mill waste is already preprocessed and can be converted into fermentable sugars using Avatar's proprietary process at 35 percent lower cost and 25 percent lower electricity requirements. Paper mill waste also offers a delignified waste stream which makes it an excellent substrate for CelA based enzyme technology that can operate more efficiently on highly crystalline delignified materials. Further, the recycled paperboard industry has been growing exponentially due to requirements from online retailers, paper bags and other businesses.


Converting waste products into fuels and plastics creates value for suppliers, mill owners and recycling facilities. Synthesizing fuel and plastics from waste also creates more employment opportunities in the clean technology sector.

Finding energy-efficient and low-cost means of converting waste into fuels can offer significant environmental benefits compared to incumbent petroleum products. This is particularly the case for conversion systems that rely on biological processes and renewable sources of electricity. Turning waste into fuel and plastic replacement products can also allow companies to avoid dumping waste into landfills and having to treat waste with potentially hazardous chemicals.

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