Cellulosic ethanol receives funding boost

By | March 27, 2007
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On Feb. 28, the U.S. DOE announced six companies that have been awarded grants to aid with capital construction costs of cellulosic ethanol plants. In order to prove the feasibility of cellulosic ethanol technology, the DOE vowed to spend up to $100 million per project, while recipients must show a 60 percent industry/40 percent government cost share. The companies that received grants are: Abengoa Bioenergy Biomass of Kansas LLC (up to $76 million), Alico Inc. (up to $33 million), BlueFire Ethanol Inc. (up to $40 million), Broin Companies (up to $80 million), Iogen Biorefinery Partners LLC (up to $80 million) and Range Fuels Inc. (up to $76 million).

Nearly two weeks earlier, in other cellulosic ethanol developments, Celunol broke ground on the nation's first demonstration-scale cellulosic ethanol production facility in Jennings, La. The 1.4 MMgy plant will complement Celunol's pilot-scale facility at the same location. The pilot plant reached its several-thousand-gallon capacity in November 2006 and will take in feedstocks such as local sugarcane bagasse and energy cane. Those who attended the groundbreaking ceremony included the Renewable Fuels Association's Matt Hartwig, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, Deputy Undersecretary of the USDA Doug Faulkner, and several other state and local officials, according to John Howe, vice president of public affairs for Celunol.

"It is significant that this technology is now being taken to demonstration scale on U.S. soil using domestically grown crops at a point in time where there is growing concern about not only dependency on foreign oil, but also mounting concern about the prospective price impacts on corn from the growing demand for ethanol," Howe said. The demonstration plant is scheduled to begin production before the close of 2007. Celunol also has a 25 MMgy to 30 MMgy commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant on the drawing board.

Celunol's event took place just days after the company announced a merger with enzyme producer Diversa Corporation, as well as a move to its new headquarters in Cambridge, Mass.

In other cellulosic ethanol news, Novozymes officials welcomed U.S. president George W. Bush to it's North Carolina laboratory in late February for a panel discussion on cellulosic ethanol along with Michael Pacheco, the director of the National Bioenergy Center at the DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and BBI International CEO Mike Bryan, among others.

Canadian-based Lignol Energy Corp. acquired a pretreatment technology previously developed for the pulp industry by a subsidiary of General Electric (GE), as well as the original GE pilot plant. Lignol plans to operate the facility to convert wood waste to ethanol.
Dallas-based Catalyst Renewables Corp. was recently awarded $10.3 million by the New York State Department of Agriculture for a planned 130,000-gallon-per-year pilot-scale low-grade timber cellulosic ethanol plant in Lyonsdale, N.Y., alongside the company's existing wood-to-ethanol plant.

On the East Coast, U.S. DOE grant recipient Range Fuels Inc., a subsidiary of California-based Khosla Ventures formerly called Kergy Inc., announced that it will build a wood-to-ethanol pilot plant in Treutlen County, Ga. according to a company press release.

For more information on cellulosic ethanol developments, see the Partnership feature on page 126.