Three New Cellulosic Ethanol Biorefineries to Receive $86 Million in Funding

April 18, 2008

DOE announced on April 18 that it will invest $86 million over the next four years in three new cellulosic ethanol biorefineries, to be built by Ecofin, LLC; Mascoma; and RSE Pulp & Chemical, LLC. The small-scale biorefineries will produce ethanol from non-edible cellulosic biomass sources, such as corncobs, wood chips, and switchgrass. Cellulosic biomass has three main components: strong crystalline strands of cellulose, which are protected by hemicellulose, a complex carbohydrate, and the glue-like lignin.

Ecofin, LLC plans to build a biorefinery in Washington County, Kentucky, that will use a novel fermentation process to convert corncobs into more than 1 million gallons of ethanol per year, as well as other products. Mascoma proposes to build a biorefinery in Vonore, Tennessee, that will convert switchgrass and wood chips into 2 million gallons of ethanol per year using a biochemical process that employs ethanol-producing bacteria. The Mascoma facility will burn the lignin from the biomass to provide heat for the process. And RSE Pulp & Chemical, LLC, a subsidiary of Red Shield Environmental, LLC, plans to build a biorefinery at its pulp and paper mill in Old Town, Maine. Hemicellulose extracted from the wood pulp will be used to produce 2.2 million gallons of ethanol per year.

Mascoma plans to begin operating its Tennessee facility in 2009, while the other two facilities are expected to start operating in 2010. Such small-scale biorefineries are meant to test novel conversion technologies, providing the information needed to scale up the process to a commercial-scale biorefinery, which would typically produce 20-30 million gallons of ethanol per year. The proposed biorefineries in Maine and Kentucky will each receive up to $30 million dollars in DOE funding, while the Tennessee facility will receive up to $26 million. See the DOE press release and the Mascoma Web site.