Cellulosic Ethanol Facilities Marching Ahead
September 3, 2008
A number of companies are making significant progress on building facilities to convert cellulosic biomass, such as agricultural and forestry wastes, into ethanol. In early August, AE Biofuels, Inc. opened a demonstration facility in Butte, Montana, to produce ethanol from a variety of plant materials, including grasses, wheat straw, corn stalks, and sugar cane stalks. But the facility is also able to produce ethanol from traditional starch and sugar sources such as corn, wheat, barley, and sugarcane, providing flexibility for the company. According to AE Biofuels, the company's Ambient Temperature Enzyme technology significantly reduces the consumption of energy and water in the production of ethanol. See the AE Biofuels press release.
Other pilot-scale facilities currently under development include a facility in Vonore, Tennessee, that will be built by DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol LLC (DDCE)—a joint venture of DuPont and Genencor, a division of Danisco—and the University of Tennessee Research Foundation. The facility will draw on dedicated switchgrass crops and corn stover, freeing their sugars using a combination of an alkaline pretreatment and enzymes and converting the sugars into ethanol using a proprietary biocatalyst. It will start producing ethanol in December 2009. Poet, LLC is also building a pilot-scale facility in Scotland, South Dakota, that will convert corn cobs into ethanol using a proprietary process. That facility will start producing ethanol this year, preparing Poet to start construction of a commercial-scale facility in Emmetsburg, Iowa, next year. Partially funded by DOE, the Emmetsburg facility will produce 25 million gallons per year of ethanol from corn fiber and corn cobs and is slated to begin operating in late 2011. See the press releases from DDCE and Poet.
A number of other commercial-scale facilities are also in the works. Mascoma Corporation and Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm have announced plans to build a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Located in Chippewa County south of Sault Ste. Marie, the facility will use microbes to break down wood fiber and ferment it into ethanol, a process known as consolidated bio-processing. In addition, BlueFire Ethanol Fuels, Inc. has been granted a conditional-use permit from the County of Los Angeles for the construction of a commercial facility to convert biowaste into ethanol. To be located near Lancaster, about 45 miles north of Los Angeles, the facility will use concentrated acid to break down non-foodstock urban wastes (such as grass clippings) and forestry and agricultural residues so they can be fermented into ethanol. Slated to begin operation in late 2009 with partial funded from a DOE grant, the facility will separate lignin from the biomass and use it to produce electricity and steam. And Fulcrum BioEnergy, Inc. plans to build a facility near Reno, Nevada, that will use a Plasma Enhanced Melter from InEnTec, LLC to gasify municipal solid waste, followed by a catalytic process to convert the gas into ethanol. Construction will begin this year, with production slated for early 2010. See Governor Granholm's press release, the Mascoma Web site, the press releases from BlueFire Ethanol and Fulcrum BioEnergy (PDF 34 KB), and the InEnTec press release and Web site. Download Adobe Reader.