Cellulosic materials, such as corn stover, cane, switchgrass, timber waste, municipal solid waste, etc., can be processed into fuels and renewable chemicals. Broadly speaking, there are two main methods: pyrolysis and hydrolysis. The former is relatively independent of feedstock but happens at high temperatures and may have yield losses due to breakdown of the molecules to simple gasses, which must be re-formed into value-added products. The latter method uses mild conditions and preserves a lot of the organic structure, but is feedstock-specific. Typically, after pretreatment of the biomass to partially break down the cellular structure, the biomass is hydrolyzed in an agitated tank or tanks by use of enzymes, which convert the cellulose and hemicellulose into simple sugars. These sugars can be fermented anaerobically to make ethanol or butanol, or aerobically to make dozens of useful products, such as enzymes, amino acids, monomers and many other compounds. The hydrolysis reactor requires the correct agitation to work properly. Pretreated material resembles peat moss in consistency, and is quite difficult to agitate. After hydrolysis, it is rather easy to agitate, resembling a simple organic slurry such as a flour, starch or gluten. Getting the correct agitation almost always involves lab or pilot testing with the specific slurry at the required concentration. An agitation consultant can do the testing, scale-up and can also help to optimize the agitator power consumption for the total batch cycle.
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