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Kudos to Chemtex

In one of those interesting ironies of renewable fuels, Chemtex's North Carolina proposed cellulosic ethanol project puts a sector of the hog industry rooting for the success of advanced biofuels.
By Susanne Retka Schill | August 27, 2012

Chemtex International is one of those companies that kept a low profile until it had its ducks in a row. Last week, the announcement was made that it received a conditional UDSA loan guarantee  to build a 20 MMgy cellulosic ethanol facility in North Carolina.

In writing the news story, I linked to EPM’s story on Chemtex’s plant nearing completion in Italy.   It’s a great article, outlining the company’s work on its cellulosic process and it’s vision for deploying the technology. They have a unique, proprietary pretreatment process and are partnering with Novozymes on enzymes. There’s an interesting corn-ethanol connection. The cellulosic ethanol project grew out of the company’s acquisition of ethanol process-designer Delta-T.

What caught my eye on the Project Alpha announcement in North Carolina is the feedstock plan. North Carolina pork producers are part of the project there, which is targeting land used for spreading lagoon effluent. Sounds like a lot of those fields are now planted to coastal Bermuda grass, which will be transitioned to miscanthus and switchgrass, according to the news release.

It’s been a while since I’ve written about either feedstock, but I do recall that one of the intriguing applications of the many energy grasses being investigated is in cleaning up contaminated soils. Some researchers are looking at using energy grasses to deal with sludge—the solids left after municipal wastewater is treated. Some energy grasses may be able to use the nutrients and sequester heavy metals. The researchers needed to confirm that none of the contaminants of concern would end up in the fuel, of course.

Hog manure isn’t a contaminant unless you have too much of it, which happens pretty easily around large confinement hog barns. Those energy grasses should be able to fully utilize the nitrogen and phosphorus, producing good yields while solving the problem of those nutrients potentially leaching into surface water or groundwater. It should bring a revenue source to farmers and create a whole new business sector around the cutting, baling and transportation of the energy grasses to the biorefinery.

And, in one of those interesting ironies of renewable fuels, it puts a sector of the hog industry rooting for the success of advanced biofuels. These projects, of course, would not be approaching commercialization now if it weren’t for the incentives in the 2005 Energy Independence and Security Act and the resulting RFS. As it is, many of these advanced biofuel projects are working hard to successfully scale up the technology and put together the financing for these first-of-their-kind projects. Congrats to Chemtex for landing the USDA loan guarantee.