Cellulosic project updates given at FEW

By Susanne Retka Schill | June 11, 2013

Cellulosic ethanol is at the cusp of commercialization, the 1,700-plus attendees learned during the opening session of the 29th Annual International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo, underway this week in St. Louis, Mo. Each of the five cellulosic ethanol developers on the panel pointed out that their commercialization efforts are now being realized; most often well over a decade after initial pilot scale testing began.

The potential for cellulosic ethanol is huge, said panel moderator Brooke Coleman, executive director of the Advanced Ethanol Council. “Sandia Lab has estimated we could make 75 billion gallons of cellulosic out of biomass each year.”

Ineos Bio is the closest to full commercialization, having its 8 MMgy plant in Vero Beach, Fla., undergoing the commissioning process for the past year. “It’s been an interesting journey over the past 12 months,” said Mark Niederschulte, chief operating officer, who added the company expects to begin shipping ethanol in the summer months.

Abengoa Bioenergy’s facility, under construction in Hugoton, Kan., is expected to begin bringing its cogeneration unit online by the end of August. Commissioning the cellulosic ethanol process is scheduled to begin at the end of the year, according to Executive Vice President Chris Standlee.

The Poet-DSM Advanced Biofuels’ biomass facility is expected to begin commissioning individual units by the end of the year, said Poet LLC Chief Technology Officer Wade Roby, with ethanol production beginning in early 2014.

Dupont Industrial Bioscience’s global business director Steve Mirshak reported the site work is completed and the pouring of foundations should begin next week at Nevada, Iowa. The company expects to have 600 employed when peak construction gets underway early next year. “The corn ethanol industry had a 20 year incubation before it took off,” Mirshak pointed out. “We’re focused on getting the first plant right.” 

Representing European development on the panel, Henrik Maimann, CEO of New Bio Solutions Section and vice president of Dong Energy Power, said the Inbicon process has reached the 15,000 hour benchmark at the Kalundborg, Denmark, demonstration facility. “We have since rebuilt and restarted the plant using a [genetically modified] yeast in a cofermentation process,” he said. “Having that experience from Inbicon, we can say we are ready with the technology and ready for scale up.”  The first project in the U.S. should be ready to start within a couple of months, he said, as well as projects in Brazil and China.

While the construction process for Abengoa, Poet-DSM and Dupont’s plants are in various stages of competitions, all three companies reported their feedstock procurement programs have been well underway for years. However, the company spokesmen reported different approaches to procurement.

“We’ve had people on the group in Hugoton for five years,” said Abengoa’s Standlee. The site was chosen largely due of the confluence of corn, wheat, grain sorghum and prairie grass production. The plant expects to procure feedstock from a 50 mile radius at a utilization rate of less than 20 percent of the total biomass available. The company is working on procurement contracts with a number of farmers and handlers.

The amount of biomass required for a biorefinery is huge. Roby said the Poet-DSM facility is expect to require 770 bone dry tons per day of corn stover, procured from about a 30 to 35 mile radius. The company is targeting a 1 ton-per-acre removal rate for a sustainable biomass procurement program. Even before the biorefinery began construction, the company began working with university researchers, farmers and handlers on building the infrastructure for stover handling.

Dupont intends to manage the entire feedstock procurement chain, Mirshak said, with the goal of achieving a nuisance-free system for the farmer. The company is targeting a 2 ton-per-acre stover removal rate.

In contrast, Dong Energy’s Maimann said feedstock procurement in Europe is not an issue and long-term supply agreements are put in place. For Ineos Bio, Niederschulte said the location next to a landfill is an advantage. “They are quite happy that instead of burying it, they can give it to us.” The plant was started using woody biomass from surrounding citrus groves that were heavily damaged, and anticipates using municipal solid waste in the future.

Further details were provided during the first breakout session of the afternoon at FEW, along with updates from other companies. Delane Richardson, vice president of business development for Chemtex, said the company's cellulosic ethanol plant in Crescentino, Italy, is shipping ethanol into the European market now. The plant using the Prosea technology in Brazil is under construction now by GranBio, with startup expected in the first quarter of 2014. 

Pat Foody, executive vice president of biofuels, with Iogen Corp. reported the company has completed six months of operations using sugarcane bagasse at its demonstration plant in Ottawa. "The technical performance of bagasse required some changes," he said. The material needed to be handled differently on the front end and changes were made in the pretreatment protocol, although there were few changes in fermentation. A secondary issue arose with erosion and deposits related to ash, he added. "We developed an ash removal solution." The commercial-scale project to be built in Brazil by Raizen is on a fast track and expected to startup in the third quarter of 2014.