Aemetis discusses plans for renewable diesel, cellulosic ethanol

By Erin Voegele | March 15, 2021

Eric McAfee, CEO of Aemetis Inc., confirmed that the company’s California ethanol plant is currently running at capacity during a fourth quarter earnings call held March 11. He also provided an update of the company’s advanced biofuel initiatives.

Aemetis’s corn ethanol plant in Keyes, California, operated continuously in 2020 despite the market impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to McAfee. The plant, which has a nameplate capacity of 60 MMgy, produced approximately 60.2 million gallons of ethanol in 2020, down from the 64.7 million gallons in 2019. McAfee said the decision to slightly reduce production by approximately 7 percent enabled the company to operate the Keyes plant while managing finished goods inventory during the temporary decline in ethanol demand last year. He also discussed actions taken by Aemetis to enable the production of high-quality alcohol for use in sanitizer products.

McAfee said the Keyes plant is currently running at full capacity in order to meet increased demand for ethanol in California. That demand has been partially driven by recent severe winter weather in the Midwest that caused disruptions in rail service, as well as loosening COVID-19 restrictions that have increased demand for fuels, he added.

McAfee provided an update of the many improvement projects underway at the Keyes plant that will reduce the carbon intensity (CI) of the fuel it produces, including the use of renewable natural gas (RNG), a membrane dehydration unit, a solar micro grid array with battery backup, and a mechanical vapor recompression (MVR) system.

RNG used at the plant is being generated through a dairy biogas project under development by Aemetis. In September 2020, the company completed construction of the first two out of 17 planned covered lagoon digesters, including on-site dairy biogas cleanup and pressurization. The Keyes plant is now using that RNG to offset natural gas usage. The remaining 15 dairy digester projects are expected to be complete by mid-2022. RNG produced through the dairy digester project will also be used as transportation fuel.

Regarding the planned Aemetis Riverbank project, a proposed 45 MMgy renewable jet fuel and diesel plant, McAfee said the company expects to be issued an initial authority to construct under the project’s original air permit application. Although further amendments are planned as part of the final construction engineering, McAfee said the authority to construct air permit will allow the company to move forward with final EPC agreements and financing.

The Riverbank project will use orchard waste to produce carbon-negative renewable hydrogen. That hydrogen will then be used in a hydrotreating process to convert biobased oils into renewable jet fuels and SAF. McAfee indicated that distillers corn oil produced as a coproduct at the Keyes plant will be used as a feedstock in the Riverbank facility. Aemetis currently plans increase the capacity of the Riverbank facility to 90 MMgy by 2025.

McAfee also addressed the possibility of producing cellulosic ethanol at the Keyes plant. He said Aemetis staff worked with the Joint Bioenergy Institute in Berkeley, California, for three years on the development of a process to extract sugars from woody biomass. That process has been exclusively licensed to Aemetis for wood and other biomass from non-commercial forest, he said. Sugars extracted via that patented process could be used to displace corn feedstock at the Keyes plant in the future.

McAfee said Aemetis plans to move forward with a pilot project to extract sugars from locally sourced orchard and forest wood waste this year, with the expectation of commercial operations to pre-extract sugars from waste wood when the Riverbank project becomes operational. Biomass remaining following the sugar-extraction process would be used as feedstock for renewable hydrogen production at the Riverbank plant, he explained.

Aemetis also owns an operates a 50 MMgy biodiesel and refined glycerin facility in India.

Ameetis reported revenues of $37.3 million for the fourth quarter of 2020, down from $52.1 million for the same period of 2019. Gross loss was $3.4 million, compared to a gross profit of $5.8 million during the fourth quarter of 2019. Operating loss was $7.7 million, compared to an operating income of $1 million. Net loss was $14.6 million, compared to a net loss of $7.7 million during fourth quarter of 2019.