Abengoa begins building 23 MMgy cellulosic ethanol plant

By Kris Bevill | September 20, 2011

The countdown to commissioning can officially begin for Abengoa Bioenergy’s first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant. On Sept. 20, the company announced it has received the air permit for the 23 MMgy multi-feedstock facility to be built in southwest Kansas near Hugoton, and said construction activities at the site are already underway. The plant is expected to be complete in about two years, which is also when the first full-scale harvest will be expected from 20,000 acres of switchgrass to be established through a USDA Biomass Crop Assistance Program project that was approved in late July.

Abengoa has been working toward commercializing its cellulosic ethanol production process for a decade and, while the outcome has been a long time coming, the company’s efforts have been rewarded with a flurry of positive outcomes throughout the summer—first signing feedstock supply agreements with area farmers for corn stover and wheat straw, then receiving BCAP project area approval for switchgrass, and finally receiving an offer from the U.S. DOE on its $133.9 million loan guarantee application. The DOE’s conditional commitment is expected to be finalized by Sept. 30.

Abengoa CEO Manuel Sanchez said the completion of this first cellulosic project will serve as a stepping stone toward the expansion of cellulosic capabilities at all of the company’s production facilities. “The construction of this ‘first of a kind’ commercial-scale biorefinery facility will us to utilize our proprietary technology that has been developed and proven over the last 10 years to produce renewable liquid fuel from Earth’s most abundant organic feedstock source - plant fiber,” he said.

Kansas politicians hailed Abengoa’s efforts to provide jobs and an economic boost for the state. About 300 jobs will be provided during the construction of the facility. When complete, Abengoa expects to hire 65 full-time employees. “I congratulate Abengoa for its willingness to invest in new technologies to move our nation toward cleaner and more energy efficient fuel from renewable local resources,” Steve Morris, president of the Kansas Senate, said. “The economic benefit of hundreds of construction jobs, a $5 million annual permanent payroll at the plant, and additional outlets for Kansas agriculture products is a tremendous benefit for our region and the entire state.”