KL Process Design starts cellulosic ethanol production

By Bryan Sims
The gap between corn-based ethanol and cellulosic ethanol became smaller when KL Process Design Group, a Rapid City, S.D.-based ethanol plant designer and marketing firm, brought the nation's first demonstration-scale cellulosic ethanol facility on line in Upton, Wyo., in January.

The 1.5 MMgy facility, called Western Biomass Energy LLC and located one mile south of Upton, began production Jan. 5, according to Tom Slunecka, KL Process Design vice president of business development. The plant is a culmination of development efforts between KL Process Design, the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, the Wyoming Business Council and the Wyoming Department of Forestry. It has the ability to operate intermittently, so while a feedstock is in the production cycle, the company can concurrently test different feedstocks in its research laboratory.

"Because it's a small plant, we can afford to bring the plant on and off-line, and do various test runs of other feedstocks while in production," Slunecka said. "If [the feedstocks] prove out efficient in the lab, then we would be able to run that particular feedstock at full scale in the plant itself."

The plant is using ponderosa pine gathered from the Black Hills National Forest by forest thinnings operator Backer Timber Products. KL Process Design intends to test other feedstocks such as hard woods, construction waste, corn stover and switchgrass after the first year of operation, Slunecka said. "Though we've tested other cellulose-based materials in the lab from switchgrass to cardboard, the plant itself is focused on ponderosa pine," he said. "There's plenty of private ground thinnings to operate this small plant without ever entering into the national forest."

According to Slunecka, KL Process Design utilizes specially designed enzymes supplied by Novozymes to efficiently pretreat the various biomass feedstocks to be used. "It's important that KL doesn't use acids in its pretreatment process, not only from the environmental standpoint for the permitting of a plant such as this, but it also adds a great deal of value in the coproducts, making them organic in nature," he said.

KL Process Design's fuel was officially introduced to the commercial market when it supplied the American Le Mans Series with E85 for its season-opener in Sebring, Fla., on March 15. "It's probably the most robust testing platform you can possibly find," Slunecka said. "The American Le Mans Series cars are basically production-level cars that have been modified for the track, so it's long been the desire for the ethanol industry to work with the auto industry to create engines that optimize the use of ethanol."