AE Biofuels gets grant for co-located cellulosic pilot plant

By Holly Jessen | April 21, 2011

AE Advanced Fuels Keyes Inc. is aiming for the future. At the same time the company is working to restart a 55 MMgy ethanol plant located in Keyes, Calif., it announced approval of a $1.88 million matching grant to build a 1 MMgy pilot plant that will convert corn and cellulosic feedstocks at the same time. The pilot plant will be co-located with the corn plant and will convert an estimated 50,000 dry tons of agricultural waste yearly. “We have developed (a process) to integrate the use of starch, corn, and cellulose, agri-waste, in a combined facility, rather than a stand alone or side-by-side cellulosic facility,” said Andy Foster, president of the company, a subsidiary of AE Biofuels Inc.

The company, which has a lease agreement with Cilion Inc. to operate the Keyes facility, has said since the beginning that its goal was to eventually utilize up to 25 percent ag residues, such as corn stalks and wheat straw at the corn plant. Building this pilot plant is step toward making that a reality. “We believe that our integrated cellulose/starch approach is the most cost efficient process to rapidly accelerate the commercialization and adoption of next-generation biofuels in the marketplace,” said Eric McAfee, chairman and CEO of AE Biofuels Inc.

California Energy Commission awarded AE Biofuels the grant to accelerate the commercialization of its patent-pending, enzyme based, cellulosic ethanol production technology. The company will build on its prior enzyme optimization studies conducted in Butte, Mont. Further, it will help California achieve the goals of its Low Carbon Fuel Standard. “By combining the existing ethanol infrastructure with next-generation technology and non-edible agricultural feedstocks, AE Keyes will help drive the industry’s goal of large-volume production of advanced transportation fuels,” Foster said.

The company expects to begin lab work in 30 to 60 days. However, construction on the pilot plant won’t begin until AE Biofuels finalizes several things with the CEC, including budgets and required permits. “Before we can commit to a formal schedule, we’ll need to complete negotiations with the CEC and sign a final agreement,” he said.

In the meantime, the corn-to-ethanol plant is in the commissioning stage and expected to be online by early May. Once the plant has been running consistently for at least six to nine months AE Biofuels will begin the conversion to adding cellulosic feedstocks to the corn feedstock. If successful with the pilot plant and cellulosic production at the Keyes corn plant the company is interested in taking its technology to other plants.