KLE, Petrobras partner for bagasse-to-ethanol

By Kris Bevill | August 27, 2010
Posted Aug. 27, 2010

Wyoming-based KL Energy Corp. (KLE) has signed an agreement to collaborate with major Brazilian energy firm Petrobras to develop and commercialize cellulosic ethanol technology for sugarcane bagasse feedstock. KLE will provide technological expertise and will optimize the process at its Upton, Wyo., facility, which will be upgraded to utilize sugarcane bagasse and other feedstocks using KLE's fourth-generation process technology. Petrobras will provide $11 million for facility modifications, process optimization and technology licensing.

KLE CEO Peter Gross said his company plans to be at the forefront of the Brazilian cellulosic ethanol market. "Brazil is the global leader in the production of affordable biofuels and biomass, and we believe that bagasse is a perfect feedstock for our process," he said. Sugarcane bagasse for the optimization project in Upton will be acquired from the southern U.S.

Petrobras and KLE will also work together to integrate a commercial bagasse-to-ethanol project at one of Petrobras Group's Brazilian sugarcane mills. The project is expected to be complete in 2013 and will produce approximately 4 MMgy.

According to Petrobras Biocombustivel CEO Miguel Rossetto, Petrobras believes cellulosic ethanol has the potential to increase its ethanol output by 40 percent without requiring additional land use and with the added benefit of further reducing the carbon footprint of its sugarcane mills. Petrobras said it was attracted to KLE as a development partner because it has an existing demonstration plant where research is already being conducted on ethanol production from wood waste. Petrobras has been conducting research on sugarcane bagasse-to-ethanol at its own pilot plant since 2007 and will contribute its experience to the project. "This partnership will capitalize on the experience of both companies, speeding up the process of mastering this technology to produce lignocellulosic ethanol and, depending on the test results, advance the project for a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol project in Brazil," the company said in a statement to EPM.

Gross said the U.S. also remains a target market for KLE. The company is working on projects in Michigan and Oregon that will utilize hard and soft woods and hybrid poplar, respectively, as feedstocks. According to the KLE's website, both facilities are expected to become operational in 2012. Aside from the Petrobras collaboration, KLE has projects under development in South America that will utilize bamboo, eucalyptus and green bananas as feedstocks. All of the projects are expected to be complete by 2013.

KLE is so far Petrobras' only U.S. cellulosic partner and the only collaborator for cellulosic ethanol technology. According to Petrobras, its other cellulosic partnership is with Dutch company BIOeCON to develop a technology called Bi-Chem (biomass chemical conversion) for converting lignocellulosic biomass into advanced biofuels. Petrobras is also researching biomass gasification to produce energy or convert to synthetic biofuels and other products.