World's largest cellulosic ethanol plant breaks ground in Italy

By Kris Bevill | April 12, 2011

Italy-based chemicals and plastics firm Mossi & Ghisolfi Group (M&G) made history April 12 when the company broke ground for its 13 MMgy cellulosic ethanol facility in Crescentino in northwestern Italy. The project is the largest cellulosic ethanol project in the world to date, 10 times larger than any of the currently operating demonstration-scale facilities. The plant is expected to become operational in 2012 and will use a variety of locally sourced feedstocks, beginning with wheat straw and Arundo donax, a perennial giant cane.

M&G is the world’s largest producer of PET plastics. In 2004 it acquired Chemtex International, which gave M&G the engineering ability to venture into “green chemistry” and biofuels projects. Chemtex spent five years and 120 million Euros (about $173 million) developing the process technology for the plant, according to a company website. “This plant proves cellulosic bioethanol can be produced in a sustainable manner for the environment and the industry,” Vittorio Ghisolfi, president of M&G, said. “But research is not stopping here. We are assessing bio-based substitutes for a range of other petrochemical products and chemical intermediates.”

The production process at M&G’s plant will utilize Novozymes’ trademarked Cellic CTec2 enzymes. The product, which was unveiled by Novozymes last year improves the production process by nearly 2 percent on average, according to Cynthia Bryant, global business development manager for Novozymes bioenergy segment. M&G and Novozymes have been collaborating for several years to produce cellulosic ethanol using Chemtex’s process and will continue to support each other’s research in order to progressively reduce the cost of enzymes required for cellulosic ethanol production, Bryant said. “We have worked with them for quite some time to help reduce their enzyme costs and will continue to do that in the future,” she said. “The lower we drive those costs, the better for the industry overall.”

Capital costs for the 13 MMgy plant are expected to be 140 million Euros, about $14 per gallon of ethanol. Bryant said M&G is self-financing the entire thing. “They’re building it because they really believe in cellulosic ethanol, cellulose-to-sugar technology, and they believe that their process is ready,” she said. “They just decided they were going to build the first plant themselves.”

While the costs are high for the initial facility, capital costs for future M&G plants are expected to be reduced to about $3 per gallon, Bryant said. “The reason for that is when they build this first plant, of course they’re going to be learning a lot from it, which will then be used to make the next generation of plants much, much cheaper,” she said.