ICM undertakes cellulosic ethanol ventures

By Sarah Smith
ICM Inc. has been busy pursuing cellulosic ethanol ventures this year. Not only has it formed an alliance to design and build Coskata Inc.'s first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant, but it has also signed several contracts to advance a separate cellulosic ethanol facility in St. Joseph, Mo.

"One of ICM's strengths is our ability to bring processes and engineering design to the marketplace, commercializing these types of technologies," said Greg Krissek, ICM's director of governmental affairs. "You're seeing us working on a number of types of projects because no one conversion process has clearly won the day, and I suspect that there are going to be multiple ones to accomplish the [renewable fuels standard] goal."

The Coskata plant, which has yet to select a site, will produce between 50 MMgy and 100 MMgy using Coskata's biological fermentation technology, which can convert most organic matter into fuel at a low cost.

LifeLine Foods LLC, which came on line in St. Joseph in September, is a unique facility that separates corn starches for use in the food and fuel industries. It also burns corn fiber to partially power the plant. ICM helped to build the facility, and now the two companies are planning to build a pilot-scale cellulosic ethanol plant, and research and development lab.

ICM has contracted with Edenspace Systems Corp. to evaluate numerous feedstocks in the biomass-to-ethanol research effort in St. Joseph, which includes corn fiber, switchgrass, corn stover and sorghum. Energy crop company Ceres Inc. will supply the seeds of these crops to local farmers, who will grow the crops and harvest the biomass. "It's almost a foregone conclusion that we're going to have multiple types of feedstocks," Krissek said. "That's why we're not necessarily focused on one or the other."

ICM wants to experiment with a variety of technologies to invent the most commercially viable technology, Krissek said, noting that there may not just be one best method. Regional variability and availability of certain energy crops will also figure into the equation, he said.

Nearly 21 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol will be developed in the coming years due to the renewable fuels standard in the Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007, Krissek said. The U.S. DOE has set a goal to get costs "around $1.07 a gallon," he added. "That's a huge opportunity to figure out how to do that."