Cellulosic ethanol projects move forward in Italy, Brazil

By Holly Jessen | October 14, 2011

Global engineering company Chemtex made announcements Oct. 13 about two separate cellulosic ethanol projects—one under construction in northern Italy and the second planned in Brazil.

Chemtex, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mossi & Ghisolfi Group, broke ground April 12 on a 13 MMgy cellulosic ethanol plant in Crescentino, Italy, which is expected to begin production sometime around June. Now, Chemtex and M&G have a joint venture with TPG Capital and TPG Biotech, forming BETA Renewables. The newly formed company has been established to exclusively license Chemtex’s trademarked Proesa technology, a biomass pretreatment and hydrolysis process that produces high-quality and low-cost sugars for conversion to ethanol or biochemicals.

TPG and M&G will invest total capital of 250 million Euros (about $344.5 million) into BETA Renewables. M&G will hold a majority stake. The pilot plant, also located in Northern Italy, will also be transferred to BETA Renewables. The pilot plant has been operating since 2009 and produces about 335 gallons of cellulosic ethanol daily, said Dennis Leong, executive vice president of marketing and business development for Chemtex.

BETA Renewables will initially focus on biofuels, followed by new bio-chemical process in development to replace petroleum-based chemicals. “TPG has evaluated a large number of opportunities in the renewables space and we believe that the Proesa technology represents the most viable and practical cellulosic sugar technology platform on the market today,” said Patrick McCroskey, TPG Biotech.  “BETA Renewables is in position to broadly deploy this advanced technology into the global marketplace and we expect that it will quickly establish a leadership position in this regard.”

Italy’s Chemtex also announced Oct. 13 that it would be collaborating with GraalBio Investimentos S.A., a biofuels and biochemicals company wholly-owned by the Brazilian entrepreneurial group Graal Investimentos S.A. The plan is to develop and construct the first industrial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Brazil, which is expected to begin operations by 2013. “We are pleased to collaborate with Chemtex on plans to build a world-class and unprecedented project in Brazil,” said Bernardo Gradin, chairman of GraalBio.

The proposed plant would produce 20 MMgy cellulosic ethanol from bagasse and other feedstocks, Leong told EPM. A final site has yet to be selected but that could be nailed down within the next 60 days. Chemtex’s trademarked Proesa technology will also be utilized at this plant. Chemtex and GraalBio are also working on developing a broader cooperation for development and production of Brazilian biofuels and biochemicals. “We look at our deal with Graal as great way to start our technology in Brazil and develop its potential,” said Guido Ghisolfi, president and CEO of Chemtex.