A Tale of Two Energy Cities
by Jim Lane (Biofuels Digest) A major plant opening by Novozymes in Nebraska and a project announcement from ExxonMobil in Texas, highlight the opportunities and challenges for industrial biotechnology
…In Blair, Cargill’s corn-based, wet mill ethanol plant provides a base load corn grind, and the availability of starch, dextrose, steam, and wastewater treatment, for example, begins to provide the shared manufacturing infrastructure base that attracts other partners. More partners, more companies to share the economics and to utilize, for example, excess process heat and steam.
Accordingly, Cargill’s own Natureworks opened a plant in the extended Balir campus in 2002, with a nameplate capacity of 300 million pounds (140,000 metric tons) of Ingeo biopolymer. In 2003, NatureWorks built the world’s largest lactic acid manufacturing facility to feed its polymer plant. Evonik arrived as well, and is In producing the feed amino acid L-lysine, and has announced a two-phase expansion of the Blair, Nebraska, plant to an annual capacity of 280,000 metric tons, on track to be completed by this summer.
…What brought all the VIPs back to Blair for another plant opening was the arrival of a $200 million Novozymes facility, the largest and most advanced in the world built to date, exclusively for the production of enzymes for biofuels and, ultimately, supporting what the companies expects will be a massive expansion in demand for enzymes for advanced biofuels production.
…But this week, the spotlight was not only shining on industrial biotechnology and the hard-working citizens of Blair. It was shining also on Baytown, Texas – where ExxonMobil has long run its own monster-sized version of industrial symbiosis. The largest oil refinery in the US is there, taking in 560,000 barrels per day at full capacity.
To translate that into the metrics usually used in bioenergy, that’s 8.6 billion gallons of production capacity, or about 60 percent of the size of all US ethanol production put together.
…The news this week out of Baytown is that ExxonMobil will shortly unveil plans for a massive new ethylene production facility, designed to take advantage of a structural change in the relationship of oil and gas prices, with the new flow of shale gas from the US which has driven natural gas prices down as low as $2 per million BTUs.
…The off taker for the ethylene? Exxon itself, which is planning two new 650,000 ton polyethylene projects in Mont Belvieu, a few miles northeast of the Baytown complex.
It’s part of a resurgence of US chemical manufacturing, off the heels of falling natural gas prices. Dow, Shell and LyondellBasell are three other companies that are increasing their US production capacity.
Ultimately in Mont Belvieu, they make the precursors for the kind of plastics and fibers that, for example, NatureWorks and its Ingeo biopolymer line compete with.
But, for now, not really competing on price.
Competing with China
One thing both projects expect to do, surprisingly, is compete effectively with China.
…(DOE policy analyst Jason) Walsh noted that the Novozymes project showed how smart federal investment can leverage large private investment, and that enzyme costs for ethanol production, through innovative series of public-private partnerships between the government and companies like Novozymes, for R&D and manufacturing, had dropped by a factor of 30.
“We face a stark choice: Export from Nebraska, or import from China” Walsh said.
…Net capital inflow. There’s hardly a better-known driver for innovation and growth than that. Making the development of more aggressive state policies, even as they face tough budget challenges, a high priority for the bio-based states who seek to compete against gas, and Texas. READ MORE