Steel in the Ground: The Largest Cellulosic Ethanol Plants in the World Are Ready to Prove Their Mettle
by Kris Bevill (Ethanol Producer Magazine) Guido Ghisolfi is a confident man. A chemical engineer by trade, at 55, he’s already spent three decades leading research and development (R&D) activities at Italy-based Mossi & Ghisolfi Group, a $3 billion per year chemical firm that ranks as one of the world’s largest PET producers (a polymer used in plastic bottles and other products). M&G, which Ghisolfi describes as a family group (Mossi and Ghisolfi are his mother and father), also happens to be constructing the largest cellulosic ethanol production facility in the world to date through its subsidiary, global engineering, procurement and construction company Chemtex. The facility will be mechanically complete this summer and won’t begin producing until the third quarter of this year, but Ghisolfi says he already knows the process will work and will be cost-competitive with first-generation ethanol, and he’s ready to guarantee it. “Chemtex is ready to sell plants,” he says. “Come and see the plant and I’ll sell you one. If you want to buy one now, I’m more than happy to sell you the technology with a guarantee, and I can tell you how much it costs.”
…The company determined the risk was worth the cost, and M&G invested more than $200 million to fully fund its cellulosic ethanol activities, including technology development, the establishment of a pilot plant, developing biomass supplies to properly feed the technology, and, finally, the construction of a 15-20 MMgy production facility.
…“We can make cellulosic ethanol starting from any biomass, any grass, any straw,” he says. “You can run a week with rice straw, a week with corn stover, a week with wheat straw, without changing hardware and without changing enzymes. This gives a lot of flexibility because you can get different types of biomass from the area around the plant depending on the season [and] the cost.”
…However, because the Proesa technology produces C5 and C6 sugars, the possibilities for end products are broad and applicable to anyone wanting to produce cost-efficient sugars. Ghisolfi predicts that by about 2014, a second wave of customers will come into view, consisting of companies that are already attempting to ferment sugars to produce everything from butadiene to acrylic acid. “So far, everybody went to Brazil because they thought there are cheap sugars in Brazil,” he says. “We hope we can make them change their minds and stay in the U.S. because we can deliver cheap sugars in the U.S. as well.” Currently, sugars can be had for about 22 cents a pound at the international level. Ghisolfi says he can beat that price by half, producing sugars using Proesa technology for 10 cents per pound.
Indian River Bioenergy Center The first U.S. plant planning to begin operating at a commercial-scale is the Ineos New Planet Bioenergy LLC facility, dubbed the Indian River BioEnergy Center, located near Vero Beach, Fla. The plant will produce 8 MMgy of ethanol and 6 megawatts of power using locally sourced municipal solid waste and vegetative waste, including some waste citrus, beginning in the second half of this year.
…Other facilities on the U.S. EPA’s anticipated producer list for cellulosic ethanol this year include demonstration-scale facilities operated by ZeaChem Inc. and KL Energy Corp as well as American Process Inc., which is nearing completion on a 800,000 gallon per year facility in Alpena, Mich., which will utilize wood hydrolyzate from a nearby hardboard manufacturing facility as its feedstock. The company expects to begin operating the facility in about a month. The only other cellulosic producer expected to contribute to the RFS this year is also the only cellulosic ethanol producer that owns an existing commercial-scale facility. Fiberight LLC purchased a former corn ethanol plant in Blairstown, Iowa, several years ago and has been slowly modifying it to produce ethanol using MSW as a feedstock. READ MORE