Aemetis upgrades Keyes plant, prepares for startup of RNG project

By Erin Voegele | May 14, 2020

Eric McAfee, chairman and CEO of Aemetis Inc., discussed steps the company is taking to supply pharmacopeia- and food-grade alcohol to produce sanitizer products and provided updates of the company’s advanced biofuel projects during a first quarter earnings call held on May 14.

McAfee said Aemetis has continued to operate its ethanol plant in Keyes, California, and construct its California renewable natural gas (RNG) project during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“To a large extent, the ability to continue to operate our California plant while fuel ethanol demand and price declined significantly during Q1 and then recovered recently in Q2 has been due to our rapid conversion of alcohol production to produce hand sanitizer alcohol,” he said, noting the company is making upgrades to the Keyes plant to produce higher-quality ethanol for personal care and industrial markets.

According to McAfee, Aemetis received a distilled spirits producer certification in April. The company is continuing to invest in the plant to achieve pharmacopeia-grade and food-grade quality ethanol within a few months, he added. “Our expanding production of high-quality alcohol for the sanitizer market used for hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes and alcohol sprays is expected to be a long-term growth market driven by the adoption of antiviral markets and products by governments, schools, private industry and consumers,” McAfee said.

The company has installed carbon filter units at the Keyes plant to produce higher-quality ethanol. McAfee said the facility is currently doubling the amount of those systems. “We are also engineering and planning to install upgrades to our distillation system in order to produce high-quality alcohol that exceeds U.S. pharmacopeia and food-grade standards in the third quarter of 2020.

McAfee also highlighted several upgrades that are being made to the Keyes plant that will reduce the carbon intensity of the fuel ethanol it produces. A Zebrex membrane dehydration system designed by Mitsubishi was delivered to the plant in late February. Installation of that system is currently underway, McAfee said. He also discussed a solar energy system, high-efficiency heat exchanger project and mechanical vapor recompression system that are being added to the Keyes plant.

During the call McAfee provided brief updates of the company’s cellulosic biofuel and RNG projects. For the RNG project, he said Aemetis has now signed participation agreements with 17 dairies and has built and tested two dairy lagoon digesters. The company has deigned and permitted a 4 mile pipeline that is now under construction to connect the dairy digesters to the ethanol plant. RNG produced by the project will be used to offset natural gas usage at the Keyes plant and will also be sold into the transportation fuel market. The RNG project is expected to begin first gas production late in the second quarter of this year.

Work on the company’s proposed 12 MMgy Riverbank cellulosic ethanol project is also ongoing. McAfee said the company is now in the final engineering and procurement cycle prior to completion of project financing and commencement of construction of the plant. The project is being supported by a UDSA loan guarantee.

Aemetis reported revenue of $39.5 million for the first quarter, down from $41.9 million during the same period of last year. North America volume of ethanol sold during the first quarter was 15.7 million gallons, down from 16.2 million gallons. The average price per gallon was $1.56, down from $1.68 per gallon during the first quarter of 2019. Gross loss for the first quarter was $433,000, compared to a $351,000 loss during the same period of last year. Operating loss was $4.5 million, compared to an operating loss of $4.6 million during the first quarter of 2019. Net loss was $12.1 million, compared to a first quarter 2019 net loss of $10.7 million.