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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

Thank You, Auburn University!

Updated: Nov 29, 2022

By Donald V. Watkins

©Copyrighted and Published on December 7, 2018

On January 8, 2007, Auburn University executed a Sponsored Research Agreement with Masada Resource Group, LLC. Auburn’s engineering work under the Agreement propelled Masada to the forefront of the international world of waste-to-energy technologies.

President Ed Richardson signed the Agreement on behalf of Auburn University. I sign it as Masada’s chief executive officer. It was a historic business alliance that produced paradigm-shifting waste conversion technologies for both parties.

On May 30, 2007, Auburn University announced the Agreement in a press release titled, “AU, Masada to convert garbage, sewage to ethanol.” According to the press release,

The proposed work will include the identification and validation of the optimal pretreatment of municipal waste to prepare it for ethanol production through enzymatic and microbial conversion. Researchers will also explore, a novel and environmentally-friendly means of separating cellulose and lignin from biomass; identify a cost-effective processing scheme for biomass and municipal waste, enabling the production of synthesis gas that can be used to produce aviation fuel as well as value-added chemicals; and develop a mathematical-based framework that accommodates the inclusion of profitability and other techno-economic measures in the process planning for a large biorefinery.”

Over the course of the Agreement, Masada paid Auburn University $500,000 to perform its innovative research and development work. Masada also purchased the Tennessee Valley Authority's biomass facilities and equipment packages that were used to conduct validation testing on the company's waste-to-ethanol process and donated the facilities and equipment to Auburn University. 

In addition to Auburn University, Masada worked directly with TVA and the U.S. Department of Energy to develop and validate its CES OxyNol waste-to-ethanol technology.  Following four years of validation and system performance testing at TVA, Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company, Special Risk Energy Division, insured Masada’s CES OxyNol waste-to-energy system performance in a commercial setting for $225 million.

In 2010, Auburn published its first major study under the Masada Sponsored Research Agreement. Titled, “Reductive Modification of Alkaline Pulping of Southern Pine, Integrated with Hydrothermal Pre-extraction of Hemicelluloses” by Sung-Hoon Yoon, Harry T. Cullinan, and Gopal A. Krishnagopalan, the study was published in the prestigious Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research, 2010, 49, 5969–5976.

This study opened new markets for Masada, which grew over the next ten years from one domestic waste-to-energy project in upstate New York to 19 strategic partnerships covering market and project development activities in 47 international markets.

On June 16, 2010, Auburn made this major announcement,

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.”

This engineering breakthrough expanded Masada’s core waste conversion technologies and enabled the company to offer proven mill sludge-to-ethanol technology to commercial customers for the first time.

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

Auburn University, which is known around the world for its excellence in innovative engineering, contributed significantly to Masada’s sustained competitive advantage in the international world of waste-to-energy technologies. Over the years, Masada and Auburn University cross-promoted each other’s expertise in alternative energy solutions, both at home and abroad.

In 2015, Masada was recognized for its trade excellence when it became a recipient of the Governor’s 2015 Trade Excellence Award. This award is one of many earned by Masada and its senior management executives in recent years.

The pioneering work of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Alabama Center for Paper and Bioresource Engineering at Auburn University, together with significant engineering contributions from TVA and the National Renewable Energy Laboratories, has made Masada a global leader in the world of waste-to-energy technologies.

To this day, Auburn University outranks the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Oxford University, and other prestigious research and development institutions in commercializing innovative waste-to-energy technologies.

Thank you, Auburn University!

PHOTO: Masada's CES OxyNol waste-to-ethanol process engineering diagram.

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