Cross-Industry Support

A first-gen ethanol producer helps its second-gen counterpart go commercial
By Bryan Sims | November 21, 2011

The first-generation ethanol industry extended a helping hand to its sister industry as Colorado-based cellulosic ethanol and biochemical firm ZeaChem Inc. signed an agreement with California-based corn-ethanol producer and marketer Pacific Ethanol Inc. to provide operations, maintenance and accounting services for ZeaChem’s 250,000-gallon-per-year demonstration-scale facility under construction in Boardman, Ore. Under terms of the agreement Pacific Ethanol Management Services Corp., a subsidiary of Pacific Ethanol, will provide operating services for ZeaChem’s demo facility, located adjacent to Pacific Ethanol’s existing 40 MMgy ethanol plant in Boardman, beginning in the fourth quarter.

In addition to its Boardman facility, Pacific Ethanol has two other operating ethanol plants, a 60 MMgy plant in Burley, Idaho, and a 60 MMgy plant in Stockton, Calif. “This agreement reflects the value of our diversified business model as we extend our asset management expertise beyond the four Pacific Ethanol plants to provide plant operating and maintenance services to ZeaChem,” says Neil Koehler, president and CEO of Pacific Ethanol. “We are well positioned to leverage our extensive knowledge of low-carbon renewable fuel production to operate and maintain ZeaChem’s advanced cellulosic biorefinery.”

ZeaChem employs a hybrid biochemical and thermochemical approach that utilizes an acetogenic process to ferment C5 and C6 sugars into intermediate chemicals such as acetic acid and ethyl acetate, as well as cellulosic ethanol, from woody biomass such as hybrid poplar. According to ZeaChem, its demo plant is scheduled to begin producing test quantities of ethyl acetate and acetic acid by the end of this year using hybrid poplar as its primary feedstock. Cellulosic ethanol volumes are expected to commence in the first half of 2012. The company also recently received a USDA grant to develop biogasoline and jet fuel production from hybrid poplar. 

—Bryan Sims