Industry reacts to BP decision to cancel US project

By Susanne Retka Schill | November 01, 2012

BP’s announcement last week that it was cancelling its cellulosic ethanol project in Highlands County, Fla., generated a number of statements from members of the Fuels America coalition underscoring the industry’s continuing commitment to advanced biofuels development. Fuels America is a large coalition of renewable fuels organizations and companies who have joined forces to promote the benefits of renewable fuels and defend the renewable fuel standard. 

James Collins, president of DuPont Industrial Biosciences, reconfirmed his company’s commitment to break ground on a 28 MMgy cellulosic ethanol facility in Iowa. “With an over $200 million investment in this Iowa biorefinery, DuPont is proud to lead the global renewable fuels industry and play a key role here at home in America’s domestic clean energy future.”

Abengoa CEO Manuel Sanchez Ortega pointed to the Spain-based company’s decade-long commitment to developing cellulosic ethanol technology. Construction on its first commercial-scale facility began a year ago in Hugoton, Kan. “This commercial scale facility is on schedule to be completed and to begin commercial production near the end of 2013,” he said. “Abengoa is committed to the advancement of renewable fuel as a path to securing a clean energy future for all.”

ZeaChem Inc. is planning a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facility in Boardman, Ore., where it is now operating a 250,000 gallon-per-year demonstration plant to help optimize its process. “The industry as a whole is rapidly progressing,” said ZeaChem President and CEO Jim Imbler. “The future of America’s energy security is contingent upon the investment and growth of the renewable fuel industry.”

"America needs a mix of domestically-made renewable fuels to keep fuel affordable for US drivers, improve our security and protect the environment—and that's why continued investment in advanced biofuels makes sense,” said Adam Monroe, president of Novozymes North America. “Our newest facility in Blair, Neb., the largest enzyme plant for biofuels in the United States, represents a $200 million private investment, employs 100 local workers and is built for a strong and growing industry. Every industry faces challenges. But we continue to believe in the future of advanced biofuels and are producing the technology to unlock its potential for the good of U.S. consumers."

For its part, BP media spokeman Matt Hartwig said the company was not abandoning its efforts in cellulosic ethanol. “The decision simply says that BP isn’t going to building the physical ethanol production facilities in the U.S.,” he said an email reply to questions.  “We are going to be looking for ways to commercialize our cellulosic ethanol technology, while continuing to run our operations in Brazil and the U.K. and developing biobutanol technology via our joint venture with Dupont.”

Commissioning began midyear on a 420 MMly (110 MMgy) feed-wheat-to-ethanol plant at a BP site in Hull, U.K.  Vivergo Fuels is a joint venture between BP, AB Sugar and Dupont. In Brazil, BP increased its ownership share last year in Tropical BioEnergia SA to 100 per cent, and announced it planned to double the size of the operations of its ethanol plant to 5 million tons of crushing capacity, or 450 MMly per year. At the same time, the company announced it was increasing its ownership share in Companhia Nacional de Açúcar e Álcool (CNAA) from LDC Bioenergia SA, bringing its ownership to 99.97 percent. CNAA has two operating sugarcane mills producing sugar and ethanol.

As for its Florida project, BP Biofuels reports on its website that about 2,000 acres of energy cane had been planted in preparation for the facility.  “Final decisions regarding the farm and the site in Highlands County have not been made,” Hartwig said. “We are confident in our technology, including the development of feedstocks like energy cane, and will continue looking for avenues to commercialization.” BP did not comment on the number of jobs impacted, but Hartwig said, “We are working to understand the impacts and will work closely with those affected, offering assistance with redeployment opportunities, outplacement services, and severance packages where appropriate.”