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The Cellulosoic Biofuels Odyssey: Crossing the Finish Line

Submitted by on February 15, 2015 – 3:49 pmNo Comment

“The Cellulosic Biofuels Odyssey,” artwork by David R. Dudley; concept by Heather Youngs, Susan Jenkins, and David Dudley.

by Greg Breining (Bioenergy Connection) When Bioenergy Connection first covered the progress to commercial cellulosic ethanol in 2011, a dozen biofuel companies were claiming they would go big by 2015. After years of industry-wide anticipation and delays, commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol is finally here. What can we learn from the pioneers?

Impatience, loan defaults, public failures among companies like Range Fuels, and a sluggish financial landscape helped propel the narrative that making fuels from biomass would never happen.

But after years of industry-wide anticipation and delays, commercial-scale second-generation biofuel companies are taking their first wobbly steps across the finish line

The stories of some of the winners follow a classic pattern — long-term research and methodical scale-up.

Ineos, a chemical company based in Switzerland, began research in waste gasification in 1991. It spent twelve years developing the technology, launching a demonstration scale hybrid gasification and fermentation plant in Fayetteville, Ark., in 2003. Construction of its commercial plant in Vero Beach, Florida began in 2012, with the first ethanol production in 2013.

Enerkem, a Canadian waste to energy company, opened its doors in 2000, but moved quickly through a pilot project and demonstration of cellulosic biofuel production. The grand opening of its commercial plant in Edmonton was in June of 2014.

POET-DSM was not far behind. … Partnering with the global biotech company Royal DSM, POET’s next-generation facility opened in September of this year and is leveraging agricultural waste.

The latest to open is Abengoa, a 73-year-old technology company based in Spain that celebrated the grand opening of its Hugoton, Kansas, plant this October.

The big surprises in the field are two relatively new upstarts from Italy and Brazil – both using the same technology. …

Beta Renewables began shipping cellulosic ethanol made from wheat straw from its plant in Crescentino, Italy, last year, just two years after the company was created. GranBio, in Alagoas, Brazil, is another such dark horse. It began commercial production of cellulosic ethanol this spring from unused leaves and tops of sugarcane, three years after the company was founded.

Canadian company Iogen Corp., has been working on cellulosic ethanol in its Ottawa facilities since 1978. Iogen’s 1 million gallon per year demonstration plant has been operating since 2004.

DuPont broke ground on its $200 million, 30-million-gallon cellulosics plant in November 2012. Located in Nevada, Iowa, it will produce cellulosic ethanol from corn stover – the stalks and leftovers from a corn harvest.  “The plant’s entire operation will be greenhouse gas neutral – it is fully sustainable and has zero net CO2 emissions,” DuPont reports.    READ MORE

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