The biofuels world has been been abuzzed recently with the grand opening of POET-DSM’s cellulosic ethanol plant, dubbed Project Liberty, which is considered the first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in the US to use corn waste as a feedstock.
The 20 million gallons/year plant (expandable to 25 mgpy) located in Emmetsburg, Iowa, has now officially started up processing its first batch of biomass – baled corn cobs, leaves, husk and stalk – into cellulosic ethanol and is said to be moving forward toward continuous operation. At full capacity, the facility can convert 770 tons of biomass per day using enzymatic hydrolysis followed by fermentation.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded $100 million in grants to support the costs of engineering and construction as well as biomass collection and infrastructure. The State of Iowa contributed $20 million in grants for capital costs and feedstock logistics while the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) invested $2.6 million to support the delivery of more than 58,000 dry tons of corn crop residue. Capital costs of the project was $275 million.
According to POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels LLC, the company has the potential to achieve net sales of about $250 million from bioethanol and license income by 2020 assuming continued support from the RFS program and depending on the adoption rate of cellulosic ethanol both in and out of the US.
Project Liberty joins Beta Renewables’ Crescentino, Italy, plant in operation since 2013, as the world’s only commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facilities, according to Beta Renewables. The company said it is now running at a steady state and have already reduced production costs and increased operational efficiency.
According to the US DOE, Project Liberty is also the second of two DOE-funded cellulosic ethanol biorefineries to come online within the past year, the first of which, is INEOS Bio’s 8 million gal/year Indian River BioEnergy Center in Vero Beach, Florida. This facility uses a hybrid of gasification and fermentation technology to convert wood scraps, grass clippings and other municipal waste materials into ethanol as well as energy for heat and power.
However, there were recent reports that INEOS Bio is producing very little ethanol because its gasification process is producing too much hydrogen cyanide, which is contaminating the synthesis gas it is feeding its anaerobic bacteria. INEOS Bio reportedly plans to install three scrubbing towers that will strip the hydrogen cyanide from the syngas. INEOS Bio had applied for a permit to install the towers from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The scrubbers will be reportedly installed and commissioned by October and the plant should be resuming normal operations by the end of the year.
The renewable chemicals industry has been waiting for cellulosic ethanol to take flight and be cost-competitive in terms of cellulosic sugar production. The difficulty in producing cellulosic sugars is in the logistics, transportation and storage of biomass as well as the sugar yields that companies can get out of biomass.