U.S. DOE invests $84 million in three cellulosic ethanol projects

By Hope Deutscher | January 10, 2008
Web exclusive posted Jan. 30, 2008, at 7:54 a.m. CST

The U.S. DOE announced today that more than $84 million will be invested over four years for three small-scale cellulosic ethanol projects in Kansas, Pennsylvania and California. The projects will serve as the proving grounds for commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facilities.

"This kind of partnership between the government and private industry is critical to accelerating the commercialization of cellulosic ethanol technology and to ensuring that the promise of the recently passed energy bill is realized," said Renewable Fuels Association President Bob Dinneen. "Without ethanol production from a host of feedstocks, including grain and cellulose, our nation cannot meet the energy and environmental challenges it faces. The work that will be done at these facilities will yield commercially produced ethanol from cellulosic material much sooner than naysayers and conventional wisdom suggest."

ICM Inc. in Colwich, Kan., will receive up to $30 million for a proposed cellulosic ethanol plant in St. Joseph, Mo., which will utilize diverse feedstocks such as corn fiber, corn stover, switchgrass and sorghum. The facility will also demonstrate energy recycling and biochemical processing. ICM has already partnered with LifeLine Foods Inc. in St. Joseph for a corn-based ethanol plant currently producing 40 MMgy.

"This announced funding will supplement private investment with an end goal of solving each of the barriers to the cost-effective production of ethanol from lignocellulosic biomass," said Dave Vander Griend, ICM president and chief executive officer. "We have engineered more than 60 ethanol plants in North America, and this technology has the potential to complement each of those existing facilities. We'll gain even further efficiencies in the production process and potentially add more than 5 billion gallons of additional renewable fuel to our nation's fuel supply annually through this collaboration alone."

Early plans for ICM's $86 million proposed plant call for a pilot-scale biorefinery built adjacent to an existing 50 MMgy ethanol refinery. "We believe that that type of fermentation approach with those types of feedstocks generally could be readily available or grown in the same areas as the existing grain-based ethanol plants today that we designed," said Greg Krissek, ICM director of governmental affairs. "This will provide an opportunity to understand how to do a second plant that's colocated with an existing grain plant, taking advantage of all the infrastructure and investment in infrastructure that the plants have. It will give us a lot more knowledge in cellulose conversion that may lead to some stand-alone plants, as well. So we think it's a natural extension that can then help our existing client-base."

The $86 million facility is currently in the planning stages. ICM and the DOE will now negotiate a Technology Investment Agreement. Construction will start one year after the funds are dispersed, Krissek said.

Lignol Innovations Inc. in Berwyn, Pa., will receive up to $30 million for a proposed cellulosic ethanol plant colocated with a petroleum refinery in Commerce City, Colo. Using a biochem-organisolve process, Lignol will convert hard and soft wood residues into ethanol and commercial products.

Pacific Ethanol Inc. in Sacramento, Calif., will receive up to $24.3 million for a proposed cellulosic ethanol plant in Boardman, Ore. The company already operates a 35 MMgy corn-based ethanol facility there. Using Danish company BioGasol's proprietary conversion process, the plant will convert agriculture and forest product residues into ethanol.

The Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007 requires the use of 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022. Sixteen billion gallons of the 36 billion-gallon goal must come from ethanol produced from cellulosic material.