IEA publishes global update of advanced, cellulosic projects

By Erin Voegele | April 10, 2013

The International Energy Agency Bioenergy Task 39 group recently published a report that outlines progress on more than 100 advanced biofuel projects under development worldwide. The report, titled “Status of Advanced Biofuels Demonstration Facilities in 2012,” is the second edition published by the group. The first was completed in 2010.

Advanced and cellulosic biofuel technologies have developed significantly since the first version of the report was released. The document points out that production capacity for lignocellulosic biofuels has tripled since 2010, with current capacity reaching approximately 140,000 metric tons of fuel per year. The production capacity of hydrotreating technology has also multiplied, reaching nearly 2.19 million metric tons per year. Still, the industry has faced several challenges, and as expected, some projects have failed.

 According to the report, companies around the world are working develop and deploy advanced biofuel technologies that feature different feedstocks, pretreatment methods and conversion technologies. These projects aim to produce a variety of fuels, from cellulosic ethanol to drop-in gasoline or biobased jet fuel. “This report aims to cover the broad range of projects and technologies and to give an overview on who is pursuing them and where,” said the Task 39 group in the analysis. “As an update to a report published in 2010, it furthermore provides information on pathways that have been developed successfully and on such that have failed. The aim is to monitor the multi-facetted development, add transparency to the sector and thus support the development and deployment of advanced biofuels production technologies.”

Raw data for the report was supplied by the companies pursuing advanced biofuel projects. Therefore, the EIA Bioenergy Task 39 group warns that the list of projects may be incomplete, as some companies can be reluctant to share data. Information in the report also specifies that the group did complete independent evaluation of submitted data.

Several types of projects are included in the scope of the report, including those manufacturing biofuels from lignocellulosic biomass, plant oils, sugar molecules and carbon dioxide feedstocks. Algae biomass projects are not included in the analysis. Regarding conversion technology, the report addresses processes in the research and development, pilot or demonstration phase. Operational commercial-scale projects are not included. Projects meeting these criteria that produce liquid or gaseous transportation biofuels were included, so long as a minimum data threshold was met, which included project ownership, location, technology type, feedstock, product, capacity, facility type, status and contact information.

The analysis gathered complete data from 71 actively pursued advanced biofuel projects. While additional projects were identified, some are not being actively pursued and others did not submit complete data. Of the 71 projects for which data was supplied, 43 were classified as employing a biochemical pathway. A total of 20 feature a thermochemical production pathway, seven use a chemical pathway, and one is flexible, allowing for either a biochemical or thermochemical pathway. As of the close of 2012, 48 of the 71 projects were operational, 9 were listed as under construction with 14 categorized as planned.

In addition to providing an overview of the global industry as a whole, the report also provides detailed descriptions of individual projects. A full copy of the 209-page report can be downloaded from the EIA Bioenergy Task 39 group website.