AE Biofuels to build cellulosic ethanol demo plant

By Jessica Ebert
AE Biofuels Inc., which is working to develop next-generation biofuels, announced in February that it had begun construction of a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol demonstration facility in Butte, Mont.

The company aims to integrate cellulosic ethanol production into starch-based processes to lower costs and increase efficiency. The key to this integrated process is AE Biofuels' patent-pending enzyme technology for the conversion of crop wastes, or energy crops like switchgrass or Miscanthus, into sugars that can be fermented into ethanol. The plant is expected to be fully operational in the second quarter of 2008.

The enzyme technology was acquired from Renewable Technology Corp. The enzymes function at ambient temperatures, which eliminate the up-front cooking and cooling process, and reduces water and energy usage. "Our technology has been shown to significantly reduce the consumption of energy and water in the production of ethanol, and allows us to utilize a combination of nonfood and traditional feedstock inputs," said Erick McAfee, chairman and chief executive officer of AE Biofuels. "Applications of the patent-pending ATCSH (ambient temperature cellulose starch hydrolysis) technology may also include licensing or joint ventures with sugarcane-to-ethanol plants."

The company is currently evaluating sites for the construction of a large-scale commercial facility. AE Biofuels owns ethanol plant sites in Danville, Ill., and Sutton, Neb., and holds options for four additional permitted ethanol plant sites in Illinois. Although the company will ultimately test multiple feedstocks, it will initially focus on various types of straw and corn stover.