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2016 National Advanced Biofuels Conference wraps in Milwaukee

By Katie Fletcher | June 23, 2016

The 2016 National Advanced Biofuels Conference & Expo took place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, this week, hosting a number of panels surrounding the advanced biofuels and biobased chemical industries. Everything from technology scale-up, technology integration, project finance, policy, markets and more were discussed.

This year’s conference was colocated with the International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo. Both conferences were kicked off with a general session, which included a keynote address from Growth Energy’s newly appointed CEO Emily Skor. She highlighted her optimism for the ethanol and advanced biofuels industries, as well as her main areas of focus as CEO, including federal policy, increasing consumer choice while driving the demand for higher fuel blends and developing new markets for export.

“The RFS is the backbone of a very competitive marketplace,” Skor said. “It is the most successful clean energy policy committed to securing a better, healthier future for the next generation.”

She emphasized that the industry will succeed, starting by controlling its own story. “You took an existing resource and found out how to power America,” Skor addressed the audience. “The hard part is done, all that is left is to tell your story.”

Skor’s keynote address was followed with two panels represented from a variety of players in both the ethanol and advanced biofuels industries, including the Renewable Fuels Association, American Coalition for Ethanol, National Biodiesel Board, Advanced Biofuels Business Council, Growth Energy and ICM Inc.

The first panel composed of Brian Jennings with ACE, Geoff Cooper with RFA, Anne Steckel with NBB and Brooke Coleman with ABBC discussed various pathways to fully realize the promise of the broader biofuels industry and began with a discussion on the renewable fuel standard (RFS).

The EPA released its proposed rule to set 2017 renewable volume obligations (RVOs) under the RFS, along with the 2018 RVO for biomass-based diesel on May 18. The agency has proposed to set the 2017 RVO for cellulosic biofuel at 312 million gallons, with the advanced biofuel RVO at 4 billion gallons and the RVO for total renewable fuel at 18.8 billion gallons. The 2018 RVO for biomass-based diesel has been proposed at 2.1 billion gallons. 

Under the proposed rulemaking, conventional biofuels, which must achieve a 20 percent carbon emission reduction, would increase by 300 million gallons between 2016 and 2017, meeting 99 percent of the statutory target of 15 billion gallons. This would allow for approximately 14.8 billion gallons of conventional renewable fuels, such as corn ethanol, to comply with the 2017 standard. Overall, the proposed RVO levels would allow total renewable fuel volumes to increase by nearly 700 million gallons between 2016 and 2017. Finally, biomass-based diesel, which must achieve a 50 percent emissions reduction level, would grow by 100 million gallons between 2017 and 2018.

The rule is currently in a public comment period and those who wish to weigh in on the proposal are able to submit written comments through July 11.

The panelists agreed that there is no question the industry has demonstrated its ability to produce 15 billion gallons. Anne Steckel with NBB shared that corn oil is becoming an exciting feedstock that has been growing as a biodiesel feedstock. “Roughly 17 percent of all of our feedstocks comes from corn oil,” she stated.

A number of panels at NABCE focused on opportunities for cellulosic ethanol. One panel included a roundup of presentations discussing opportunities to produce cellulosic gallons at existing starch-based ethanol production facilities. DuPont Industrial Biosciences, Sylvatex Inc., Edeniq Inc. and Syngenta all shared the technology they have available to serve this purpose.

“This is a space I’m really excited about,” said Kalpesh Parekh, business development with DuPont on the panel. DuPont has been developing ways to maximize the value of each corn kernel with generation 1.5 technologies. Parekh began his presentation discussing the rise of corn fiber. “There is more value recognition,” he said. “We’ve learned how folks are trying to get more value out of the fiber compared to the fibers presence in dried distiller’s grains (DDGs).”

He shared that a typical corn kernel has between 8-10 percent fiber, with total industry grind amounting to 4 billion bushels available that can be converted. DuPont’s expertise lies in enzymes that efficiently hydrolyze corn fiber to yield maximum additional ethanol, oil and high protein DDG. Parekh shared that DuPont has produced over 3 million gallons of ethanol from corn fiber with OPTIMASH F enzymes.

Virginia Klausmeier, CEO of Sylvatex, discussed her company’s novel colocation approach to upgrade first generation ethanol to advanced biofuels. The company is young, founded in 2012, with a commercial plan to have the first application of alternative fuel colocated at ethanol facilities using ethanol and corn oil FFA as key inputs. Sylvatex’s primary target is the California market and to have production and revenue by 2017.

“The initial goal was to blend oxygenates into diesel fuel to produce a very low emissions fuel,” Klausmeier said. “We’re based in California where there are lots of policy and regulations, the low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) especially, and also the RFS, and then you have the end users.”

She mentioned diesel users having to reduce particulate matter (PM) and NOx emissions, so that’s a growing market for emission reduction solutions. Klausmeier shared that the company’s approach has demonstrated NOx emission reductions up to 13 percent and PM up to 57 percent when blended with ULSD, and NOx reductions up to 18 percent when blended with B100. Besides emission reductions, Klausmeier said the engine performance has no change. “We’ve been able to blend up to 45 percent, but focused on a 10 percent blend,” she added.

Sylvatex’s process is able to use a variety of low-cost feedstocks like biorefinery waste or coproducts and other waste products. The technology utilizes existing infrastructure and can expand ethanol sales and access to the diesel market.

According to Klausmeier, the fuel is less of a capital investment than a biodiesel or renewable diesel refinery. They’re focused on getting the capex down to less than $1 per gallon as a bolt-on solution. Compared to industry rule of thumb Klausmeier indicated in her presentation, for a large-scale refinery (50 to 100 million gallons) ethanol plants are around $1.50 to $2 per gallon, biodiesel $1 to $2 per gallon and renewable diesel $3 per gallon. Small-scale refinery biodiesel is $4 to $5 per gallon and cellulosic anywhere from $5 to $10 per gallon in capital investment.

Over the next few months, she said the company is focused on solidifying the technology, working with California regulators to push that work through and establish commercial partnerships. “Right now, we have some partners, and we’re looking forward to a smaller pilot in 2017,” Klausmeier said.

James Kacmar, pathway program director with Edeniq, discussed the company’s vision to produce cellulosic ethanol in existing plants with its pathway platform. “There are over 10 million tons of cellulose at U.S. ethanol plants from the corn kernel fiber,” he said. “There is the potential for 300 to 400 million gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol if adopted in all corn ethanol plants.”

The company’s pathway bolt-on is two steps using a combination of mechanical pretreatment and cellulase. The first technology is the cellunator, which is a proprietary mill that right sizes particles, homogenizes slurry and shears fibers. Next, there is the enzyme that converts fiber into fermentable sugar. Kacmar shared that the cellunator has been proven at seven plants and the cellulase demonstrated at three.

The overall benefits of the pathway he said are that it increases overall ethanol production, produces cellulosic ethanol from fiber (eligible for D3 RINs) and increases corn oil production. This pathway bolt-on has already been rolled out by the company with licensing with Flint Hills, Mid-American Agri Products/ Wheatland, Pacific Ethanol, Aemetis and most recently Siouxland Energy.

Syngenta also has technology in the space with its cellerate enhanced by Enogen process. In July of 2014, Quad County Corn Producers produced their first cellulosic gallons in Iowa using the process. The following October the process was approved by U.S. EPA to generate D3 RINs. As of March of 2016, 3 million D3 RINs produced and over 1 million gallons have been produced.

Other cellulosic ethanol-based panels included conversations surrounding processes to improve commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol, as well as leveraging biological innovation to increase available pathways for cellulosic ethanol production.

NABCE attendees also listened and shared information covering advanced biofuels in aviation markets, deploying biodiesel production assets at operating ethanol plants, how and why biogas producers are winning market share in advanced biofuel markets and more.