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Cellulosic ethanol projects progressing

By Lisa Gibson | May 31, 2010
Posted July 21, 2010, at 4:30 p.m. CST

Both Abengoa Bioenergy and Poet LLC hope to have the first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant in the world and expect to begin operation in the next few years.

Poet's Emmetsburg, Iowa, plant is slated for operation in 2012, capable of producing 25 million gallons from corncobs and high-cut material, according to Adam Wirt, Poet's technology development specialist, who discussed the project at the Energy & Environmental Research Center's Biomass '10: Renewable Power, Fuels, and Chemicals Workshop July 20 and 21 in Grand Forks, N.D. "Our goal is to build the first in the world," he told attendees. "We've heard a lot of companies say that." Poet has worked with equipment manufacturers to establish collection methods for the feedstock and has identified 600 area farmers to contribute.

The facility will require 270,000 bone-dry tons of the residues per year, equivalent to about 300,000 acres. "We feel that up to 25 percent corn stover removal is environmentally sustainable," Wirt said. More than 10,000 tons have already been collected for the facility, dubbed Project LIBERTY.

"Cellulosic ethanol is an Abengoa goal," said Robert Wooley, Abengoa director of process engineering. "It's not just a project. It's our future." Abengoa's plant will be located in Hugoton, Kan., and Wooley calls it a key first for the nation. The plant is expected to be operational by 2013, but that timeline has been pushed back several times since plans were put in place a few years ago, as a cellulosic project is tough to carry and fund, he said. "I've been involved in cellulosic ethanol for the past 15 years and it's been a long and torturous path," he said.

Abengoa's plant will require 2,500 tons per day of corn stover, straw, milo stubble and swtichgrass, and the offtake will go to its sister company, Abengoa Bioenergy Trading. It will produce 16 million gallons of ethanol, 29,000 tons of lignin and 75 megawatts of power. The company already has 50 percent of its supply contracts signed. The plant has strong state and local support, Wooley said, and the company's long-term strategy is to commercialize its lignocellulosic conversion technology to hybrid facilities along with biopower or existing corn starch ethanol facilities.

Projects are ongoing at the U.S. DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy to develop systems capable of better handling and delivering high tonnage biomass to facilities such as the ones Poet and Abengoa are building. Jonathan Male discussed his office's work in biofuels advancement, including its proposed Deployable Process Demonstration Unit to bridge the gap between producers and refineries.

Of the $800 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding, the DOE's Office of Biomass allocated $509 million to pilot and demonstration-scale refineries; $82 million to commercial-scale biorefineries; $107 million to fundamental research; $20 million to ethanol infrastructure research; $14 million to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory integrated biorefinery; and $68 million to small business innovation research and program direction, Male cited. The new biofuel feedstock thrust is algae and that funding has helped further research. "Prior to the Recovery Act, we didn't have any biorefineries using algae," he said. "Now we do."

Male discussed the DOE's other biomass plant funding opportunities and a new initiative to accelerate, develop and deploy advanced biopower technologies over the next six years.
 

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