Tranquility Base Here. The Crescentino project has landed.
by Jim Lane (Biofuels Digest) Once described as a “moon shot”, Beta Renewables’ commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol project hovers just over the lunar surface, weeks from completion. It’s transformative cost structure may well reignite the cellulosic rockets.
The first thing you notice about the Beta Renewables cellulosic ethanol plant in Crescentino is the size and scope. Tucked away in the sprawling, agriculture-rich plain that lies just south of the Italian Alps in the vicinity of Torino, the towering columns dominate the surrounding landscape like the gantryways of Kennedy Space Center’s launch pads, lording it over the Florida flatlands at Cape Canaveral.
…But to see a 20 million gallon cellulosic biofuels project, up close and in person, is like seeing the Saturn V rocket for the first time.
…The controversy, over the past couple of years, has been whether it was actually possible to deliver cellulosic ethanol for $1.25 per gallon on an operating basis – by delivering 10-12 cent sugars – based on a design that would cost, on a capex basis, around $5 per installed gallon of capacity.
…Crescentino is nearing its final weeks of construction, they expect to be in operation by year-end, and it is expected that at least a half-dozen “if you build it, we will come” conditional commitments from partners will go live in the first half, and Beta Renewables will be off to the races with somewhere between 60 and 300 million gallons of capacity in construction projects.
…Beta projects that it can recover one unit of ethanol for every 4-4.5 units of biomass, or around 2 units of biomass for every unit of renewable sugars.
…“We wanted a technology that was worldwide, non-food, subsidy-free, multiple feedstocks, that would work outside of the corn belt. But we didn’t want simply to go for cellulosic ethanol by throwing money at the problem of pre-treatment and extracting sugars.
“Our R&D focus was a low temp, low steam environment, to disturb less. We knew that the acid bases can extract 70% sugars – but then you have an acid soup, and you need wonder enzymes just to survive the exotic PH conditions.
“If you can change the nature of the processing conditions, you change the nature of all the equipment in the plant – because the processing conditions you have imposed on yourself also impose significant costs in the kind of engineering, the kind of systems and materials you need.
“My father (M&G founder Vittorio Ghisolfi) said his goal was to “banalize” what was rocket science technology, and that’s what we have worked on here.” READ MORE