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Expanding cellulosic ethanol production worldwide

It felt like everybody was in a group hug when I attended a biofuel panel discussion at the recently-held World Bio Markets USA with POET-DSM, GranBio and Abengoa Bioenergy in attendance.

Abengoa had its grand opening celebration last month with its new 25 mgpy cellulosic ethanol plant in Hugoton, Kansas. The facility is expected to use around 350,000 tons/year of biomass (corn stover residues). The facility will also feature an electricity cogeneration component that will generate up to 21 megawatts of electricity – enough to power itself and provide power to the local community.

According to Abengoa CEO, Manuel Sanchez Ortega, the Hugoton plant is the result of 10 years of technical development, roughly 40,000 hours of pilot and demonstration plant operation. Abengoa received a $134.2 million loan guarantee and a $97 million grant from the US Department of Energy to support construction of the Hugoton facility.

At full capacity, the Hugoton facility will process 1,000 tons per day of biomass, most of which is harvested within a 50-mile radius. More than 80% of the biomass is consist of irrigated corn stover, with the remainder comprised of wheat straw, milo stubble and switchgrass. The company will use its new cellulase enzyme, Abzym, in the facility, which can also process other types of feedstock such as extraction of cellulosic sugars from municipal solid waste.

Abengoa’s plan is to offer licenses and contracts to parties covering every aspect of the industry – from process design to engineering, procurement and construction (EPC), supply of exclusive enzymes, as well as operations and marketing of the completed products from the facility.  The company claims to be one of the largest ethanol producers in the Americas, and the largest producer in Europe with a total of 867 mgpy installed production capacity among 15 commercial-scale plants in five countries.

During the panel discussion at the WBM USA conference in San Diego, Abengoa said it is expecting to build its second cellulosic ethanol plant most probably in Brazil. It is also looking at chemical applications not only for cellulosic ethanol but also for production of cellulosic sugars using its pretreatment process. If readers recall, Abengoa has been looking into production of cellulosic-based n-butanol. One of the advantages of Abengoa’s technology, according to the company, is that a butanol plant can be built next to an ethanol plant, allowing the production of butanol without having to halt the ethanol production process.  I guess, kind of like what Gevo is now doing with its side-by-side production of corn-based isobutanol and ethanol.

N-butanol is currently produced either by fermentation of sugars with Clostridium Acetobutylicum (ABE – acetone-butanol-ethanol) process or via the oxo petrochemical process where propylene is reacted with synthesis gas forming butylaldehyde, and subsequently hydrogenated to produce butanol.

Tecnon OrbiChem has been covering the petrochemical n-butanol market worldwide, and according to a colleague, it will be difficult for bio-based n-butanol to enter this already overcrowded space. More on this analysis in the November issue of Bio-materials newsletter. And before I get distracted with n-butanol, other recently started cellulosic ethanol production includes POET-DSM’s 20 mgpy facility in Emmetsburg, Iowa, which the blog already reported, and Granbio’s 22 mgpy plant in Alagoas, Brazil, which started in late September.

Granbio’s $190 million facility will use sugarcane straw, which is expected to be around 400,000 tons/year. The facility will use Beta Renewable’s PROESA pre-treatment technology, enzymes from Novozymes and yeast from DSM. It will have a co-generation system fed by bagasse and lignin – a byproduct of producing second-generation ethanol.  The boiler of the cogeneration system will generate an excess electricity of 135,000 megawatt-hour/year, reportedly enough to power a city of 300,000 inhabitants – which will be sold and become a source of revenue for GranBio and its partner, Caete, which is responsible for the $75 million cogeneration system.

Like Abengoa, it was reported that GranBio is expecting to build a second facility in Brazil with a partner. According to this Bloomberg news, GranBio is also planning a “second” biochemical facility. I’m a little bit confused with this second facility as I wasn’t aware GranBio has a first one. Unless, of course, the first biochemical facility is about GranBio’s current partnership with specialty chemical firm Rhodia (a company of Solvay Group). The two companies are planning to produce cellulosic n-butanol in Brazil and it was reported that a facility is expected to start in 2015, pending approval by the two companies’ board of directors as well as Brazil’s anti-trust authority. So far, I have yet to hear if this facility is already being constructed.

And back to cellulosic ethanol, the industry is now waiting for DuPont Industrial Biosciences to complete construction of its 30 mgpy cellulosic ethanol plant in Nevada, Iowa, which some reports indicated will be in early 2015 because of labor shortages in Iowa, particularly those skilled in on site construction jobs (pipe fitters, welders, equipment operators, etc.).  Because of the shale gas boom and surge in petrochemical/energy plant projects (including ethanol), the US is actually starting to see labor shortages in this area. The DuPont cellulosic ethanol facility is expected to utilize 375,000 tons/ear of corn stover.

The company also recently announced that it has signed an MOU with Ethanol Europe and the Government of the Republic of Macedonia to facilitate the development of cellulosic ethanol market in the Pelagonia region.  A biorefinery with a capacity of 100 million liters/year is expected to be constructed starting 2016 and be completed around 2018. The government of Macedonia will facilitate the project in establishing a viable supply chain using energy crops, increasing local production of cereals and oilseeds, and offering incentives for renewable biomass electricity.

Ethanol Europe will create an investment plan with the intent to develop the sustainable agricultural supply chain, project design, project financing and construction of the biorefinery. DuPont is to license the cellulosic ethanol technology, supply the enzymes and intellectual know-how in developing a sustainable agricultural supply chain practices.

In another recent European ethanol news, Beta Renewables announced that it has signed a definitive deal with Energochemica SE for the construction of a cellulosic ethanol plant in Strazske, Slovak Republic, which will have a capacity of 55 mtpa and will use the PROESA process. The project begins immediately and the start-up is expected in the first half of 2017.  The plant will use enzymes from Novozymes and yeast from Leaf Technologies. Biochemtex will provide the basic engineering, key equipment and technical field services.

About Doris de Guzman

Will Green Chemistry save the world or is it hype? Doris de Guzman examines alternative processing, new technology, R&D and other sustainability initiatives aimed at preventing pollution; replacing ingredients; and using renewable feedstocks in Green Chemistry. She has been covering the oleochemicals market for 15 years and spread her beat to inorganics, biofuels and green chemistry.


One Response to “Expanding cellulosic ethanol production worldwide”

  1. Solazyme is a cleaner fuel, why doesn’t our government fund a plant in the pacific northwest?
    With the help for Proterro (inexpensive feedstock) SZYM could be very successful.

    Posted by Dave Hood | November 26, 2014, 11:18 pm

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