Ineos declares commercial cellulosic ethanol online in Florida

By Sue Retka Schill | July 31, 2013

The congratulations are coming in as Ineos Bio announced that its Indian River BioEnergy Center is now producing cellulosic ethanol at commercial scale. The first ethanol shipments will be released in August from the 8 MMgy facility in Vero Beach, Fla., that will also be generating 6 megawatts of electrical power.

Construction of the facility was completed over a year ago, and commissioning began for the first-of-its-kind facility in June of 2012. While the company announced the power generation from the gasification unit was operational in November, the Ineos team spent much longer on the continuous syngas fermentation process producing cellulosic ethanol.

Such a lengthy commissioning process is not uncommon in Ineos’ experience, explained Ineos Bio CEO Peter Williams.  “It is quite normal to have a period of learning, especially with new technology,” he told Ethanol Producer Magazine. “What I’m describing here is more akin to a petrochemical process -- the continuous units, the gasification, the continuous fermentation, distillation, power generation.” In the more than 40 polymer plants that have been licensed by the parent global chemical company, Ineos, a lengthy commissioning is the norm, even with known technologies. “Our customers still say four years on average to build a plant, even knowing the site,” Williams said. “In that context, it doesn’t look abnormal at all, but it looks pretty quick, and we are pleased with our team.”

“Everything we’ve done validates our views of the technology,” Williams added. “It reinforces our views of it being a very attractive value proposition as a technology for converting waste materials into bioethanol and energy, into power as well.”   

The project is a joint venture between Florida-based New Planet Energy Florida LLC and Ineos Bio, a division of global chemical company Ineos. The $130 million project received a $50 million U.S. DOE matching grant in December 2009 and a $75 million USDA loan guarantee in January 2011. A groundbreaking ceremony was held a month later. The process design was worked out in over 40,000 hours of operation since 2003 at a fully-integrated pilot plant in Fayetteville, Ark., using a wide variety of feedstocks. Ineos purchased the pilot facility and technology in 2008 from Bioengineering Resources Inc., combining that work with its own expertise in technology commercialization and large-scale facility development.

The facility is targeting waste streams, beginning operations with vegetative yard and agricultural waste, and is permitted to use municipal solid waste from a nearby landfill. In the unit, biomass is first gasified, with the heat recovered from the cooling gas used to generate power. The cleaned, cooled syngas goes to a patented anaerobic bacterial fermentation process producing ethanol that is then continuously extracted from solution and distilled. In the continuous process, feedstock entering into the gasifier exits as ethanol less than 10 minutes later, according to Dan Cummings, Ineos Bio spokesman.

The facility has been generating renewable power for 10 months, Cummings said, and has reached 90 percent of its generation capacity. While the ethanol process has now been declared to be producing at commercial scales, Cummings added that the company will continue to debottleneck and optimize the process, and expects to reach full capacity by the end of the year.

Ineos Bio is working with other companies and cities globally to use this technology as a new direction for waste disposal and the production of advanced biofuels and renewable power. Construction at the Indian River BioEnergy Center created more than 400 direct construction, engineering and manufacturing jobs. The project sourced more than 90 percent of the equipment from U.S. manufacturers, creating or retaining jobs in more than 10 states. The center has 65 fulltime employees and will provide $4 million annually in payroll to the local community.

The announcement of commercial-scale production was met with congratulations. “The production of commercial scale cellulosic biofuels is a very significant achievement and a direct result of American biotech innovation,” said Brent Erickson, executive vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s industrial and environmental section. “Ineos Bio’s biorefinery is the first to prove a biotech process successful at commercial scale. It has already created hundreds of jobs and brought economic growth – as well as renewable electricity – to its Florida community. This shows the renewable fuel standard is working, plain and simple.”

The environmental community also hailed the arrival of clean biofuels. “Today is a landmark day in the development of the U.S. cellulosic biofuel industry,” said Jeremy Martin, senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists’ clean vehicles program. “We are clearly making the transition from laboratory and pilot plant to commercial-scale production of cellulosic biofuels, which is an important part of cutting our oil use.” The USC said its research has shown there is more than enough nonfood material in the U.S. to meet the total 36 billion gallon biofuel target under the RFS.