‘Welcome to the Future’

Construction on Abengoa’s self-powered cellulosic ethanol facility is complete. But that doesn’t mean efforts to innovate are over.
By Holly Jessen | November 19, 2014

Hugoton, Kansas—Javier Garoz Neira, CEO of Abengoa Bioenergy, told attendees at the company’s grand opening celebration they were witnessing the first step into the start of a new era. “It is, without question, a major achievement and we believe that it will revolutionize the biofuel industry and our future,” he said. “Welcome to the future of biotechnology and the bioindustry.”

Garoz Neira was one of several speakers at the company’s Oct. 17 event at it's newly completed facility, which will, at full capacity, produce 25 MMgy of cellulosic ethanol. He gave audience members a quick timeline of the project, starting in 2007, with Abengoa’s announcement that it planned to build a cellulosic ethanol plant. Less than a year later, the company had successfully produced biofuel at its biomass pilot plant in York, Nebraska, and, by 2009, the demonstration facility in Spain began operations, he said. 2011 was the year that the company received a $132.4 million loan guarantee from the U.S. DOE to help build the Hugoton plant. Since that time, Abengoa has completed four biomass harvests and about two years of construction with as many as 1,500 construction workers employed on site.

The facility can convert a variety of feedstocks into biofuel, including corn stover, wheat straw, prairie grasses and more utilizing enzymes developed by the company. Those enzymes work equally well on municipal solid waste, which the company has been converting to ethanol at its Spain demo plant since July 2013, Garoz Neira said. Abengoa is also working on new uses for the sugars extracted from cellulosic materials so that it can produce new products, such as replacement materials for the petroleum in plastics.

Chris Standlee, executive vice president of Abengoa Bioenergy, told Ethanol Producer Magazine the company was in a unique position in the industry. First, using the high-lignin material left over after the ethanol production process, the facility is able to produce all the process steam and electricity it needs to power the plant, plus sell between 5 and 10 MW of electricity to the grid. Another unique aspect of Abengoa is that the company provides every aspect of the technology from start to finish. That includes its proprietary enzymatic hydrolysis technology as well as in-house engineering, procurement and construction services.

Further, the company is 100 percent owner of six U.S. first-generation ethanol plants as well as partially or fully owned facilities in Europe and Brazil. That gives Abengoa 30 years of experience in maintaining and operating ethanol plants, including trading, marketing and hedging.  “Really, nobody else has all of those aspects, from total start to finish,” he said. “So that really sets Abengoa apart.”

Author: Holly Jessen
Managing Editor, Ethanol Producer Magazine
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