Florida pilot plant to produce ethanol, organic acids

By Holly Jessen | January 17, 2012

A dedication ceremony was held recently for the Stan Mayfield Biorefinery Pilot Plant in Perry, Fla. A cooperative venture between the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and Buckeye Technologies Inc., the biorefinery is slated to produce up to 400 gallons of ethanol and 5,000 pounds of organic acids for bioplastics daily. “We’re almost finished with construction,” Joe Joyce, UF executive associate vice president for agriculture and natural resources, told EPM. “We expect to have the plant fully operational by this summer.”

A wide variety of cellulosic feedstocks, such as crop residue and yard waste, will be tested at the facility, with the goal to reduce production costs. On the first day of operation the feedstock was sugarcane bagasse. “Working together at this demonstration plant, we can help shape a new reality of clean, renewable and domestically produced energy,” said University of Florida President Bernie Machen. “I can think of no better example of the mission of a research university at work.”

The facility will serve as a research and demonstration plant, Joyce said, adding that getting cellulosic ethanol projects such as this one off the ground have taken longer than anyone thought necessary. The Florida legislature envisioned it as a facility that would demonstrate close-to-industrial-scale production.“It was never intended to be a commercial venture,” he said.

The 18,500-square foot facility was named for the late Stan Mayfield, a graduate of UF and a member of the Florida House of Representatives from 2000 until his death in 2008. He helped secure $20 million in funding for the biorefinery from the Florida Legislature. “(Mayfield) listened to and respected the research, but also knew that the way to get this idea from the lab to daily reality had to be a partnership—a partnership that matched the knowledge created at the University of Florida with state support and private industry leadership,” said Jack Payne, UL senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources.

Two hundred people attended the dedication ceremony, including the namesake’s wife, State Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach. Other notables on hand included Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam; John Crowe, Buckeye Technologies Inc. chairman and CEO; and Lonnie Ingram, a UF distinguished professor of microbiology and cell science. Ingram developed the genetically modified bacterium that will be used to break down cellulose in the biorefinery’s production process.

UF built the pilot plant on land owned by Buckeye Technologies. The company, which manufactures products made from wood and cotton and distributes them worldwide, will provide the raw materials, utilities and services, including electricity, water and steam, for the project. The university’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences will manage the plant.