POET-DSM, DuPont, Abengoa begin commissioning cellulosic plants

By Katie Fletcher | June 11, 2014

The big players in the cellulosic ethanol industry shared exciting updates of their cellulosic projects at the 2014 International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo in Indianapolis. POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels LLC, DuPont and Abengoa discussed their progress from construction to commissioning of North America’s first class of cellulosic ethanol plants. These companies are all in their final stages of developing their respective plants, some estimating startup as early as the end of the month.

“All three of us will say cellulosic ethanol is today,” said Ken Hill, business development and licensing leader with DuPont Industrial Biosciences Global. “We are very excited about the prospects for this technology.”

The joint venture of POET-DSM is in the final stages of construction with the cellulosic ethanol plant Project Liberty, collocated with an existing corn ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa. “We hope to run biomass into the plant around the end of the month and start up within the course of July,” said Steve Hartig, general manager of POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels.

Hartig discussed the value of the cellulosic ethanol plant by breaking it down into economic, energy security and environmental sustainability benefits. A single plant brings a $200 million plus investment, 45 full time jobs, hundreds of construction jobs and over $2 million into the community per year before add-on effects. A single plant replaces about 1 million barrels of imported oil per year, and will reduce over 210,000 tons of CO2 per year or “bring 40,000 cars off the road,” Hartig said. POET-DSM is planning to do onsite manufacturing of enzymes, which will start up after the main plant is running. According to Hartig, producing locally avoids having to concentrate and ship it, and allows them to use local ingredients from the site. “We really think onsite manufacturing of enzymes is the best solution for the long term to keep low costs,” he said.

DuPont’s commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facility in Nevada, Iowa, now enables licensing worldwide. The options under the global license include a technology package, equipment supply, technical support, biocatalyst supply, feedstock supply consulting and co-product energy solutions. According to Hill, DuPont will be the world’s largest plant for cellulosic ethanol.

DuPont has already started commissioning some of the utility systems, and will finish commissioning in October or November, with ethanol expected by the end of the fourth quarter. “Our approach is to take DuPont’s ‘know how’ to potential ethanol producers,” Hill said. “It is a big part of what we can do as a fully innovated licensing company.” DuPont estimates ethanol production to be around 30 million gallons per year, consuming 700,000 corn stover bales per year, which equates to more than one bale per minute. The corn stover supply for the plant is within a 30-mile radius, with about 10 percent of the supply harvested. “That is what we will do this year,” Hill said. “Out of 190,000 acres we will harvest 30 to 40 percent corn stover in each acre.”

DuPont has a feedstock collection program where they have contracted with more than 500 local farmers to gather, store and deliver over 375,000 dry tons of stover per year into their facility in Iowa.

“We provide basically a turn key solution on the engineering for someone who wants to build a cellulosic ethanol plant,” Hill said. He added DuPont will work with customers on equipment supply, monitor the project from design to construction, train employees, provide the opportunity for customers to see a plant running by touring the Iowa operation, and help customers setup their feedstock supply chain, among other offers.

Abengoa plans to start up its first-of-its-kind, commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Hugoton, Kansas, in early July. “Technology is one of the most important things with Abengoa,” said Christopher Standlee, executive vice president of Abengoa Bioenergy. They have €426 million ($577.16 million) invested in research and development in 2013, with 261 patent applications, of which 106 have already been granted.

The Hugoton Project has a production capacity of 25 million gallons of ethanol from biomass per year and a capacity of 21 MW of electric power. Standlee estimates the facility will process 300,000 tons of biomass per year, most of which has already been contracted at a fixed price for ten years. “The economic impacts are very dramatic,” Standlee said. He added that the 300,000 dry tons expected to be purchased within a 50-mile radius of the plant amount to a $17 million economic input into the area. The target of Abengoa is to be able to produce cellulosic ethanol at an operational cost between $2 and $2.30 per gallon by 2015. “We think we are on target to achieve those goals in the very near future,” Standlee said.

Standlee discussed two main harvest seasons. The wheat and straw harvest begins June 15 and runs for six to eight weeks harvesting 60,000 dry tons or 3,400 total semi-truck loads. The corn and milo stover harvest season begins October and runs for 10 to 15 weeks harvesting 240,000 total dry tons or 13,000 total semi truck loads. “By today we have been able to achieve 75 gallons per ton in the laboratory, and that’s what we expect in Hugoton, we also expect it to increase to 85 gallons per ton by the end of the decade,” Standlee said. “Abengoa has about 10 years of experience in recycling and sorting municipal waste, plus 10 years of experience in developing the cellulosic ethanol technology makes this the perfect marriage.”