Industry First

A nearly 20 MMgy cellulosic ethanol facility in Crescentino, Italy, officially opened in early October, making it both the first and the largest commercial-scale facility of its kind in the world.
By Holly Jessen | October 11, 2013

Hundreds of people gathered Oct. 9 for the inauguration of the Beta Renewables facility in Northern Italy. The plant, which converts wheat straw, rice straw and the energy crop arundo donax into cellulosic ethanol, was mechanically completed in 2012 and will reach full capacity by the end of the year, according to Beta Renewables’ Chairman and CEO, Guido Ghisolfi. “At the moment we are producing on-spec ethanol with the right quality and right yields.”  

In the three weeks leading up to the official opening, the company hosted at least two tours daily. What visitors see is a plant that is producing commercial qualities of ethanol. “The most interesting visitors are the ones that were skeptics,” he tells Ethanol Producer Magazine. “The ones that thought we would never build a plant of this capacity and the plant would never be on-stream and the plant would never get yields.” 

Among those attending the celebration were customers from Eastern and Western Europe, North America, South America and Asia. “The interest is very, very high,” Ghisolfi says, pointing to a licensing agreement with GranBio, to build Brazil’s first cellulosic ethanol plant using Beta Renewable’s trademarked Proesa technology. More is yet to come. “We are now in the process of signing three more licenses, one in Columbia, one in the United States and Eastern Europe,” he says, “and this will happen before the end of the year.”

A year ago, Beta Renewables formed a strategic partnership with Novozymes, making the company the preferred enzyme supplier for current and future cellulosic projects. “The opening today presents a leap forward and is truly the beginning of a new era for advanced biofuels,” says Peder Holk Nielsen, CEO of Novozymes. “Here, at this plant, enabled by Novozymes’ enzymatic technology, we will turn agricultural waste into millions of liters of low-emission green fuel, proving that cellulosic ethanol is no longer a distant dream. It is here, it is happening, and it is ready for large-scale commercialization.”

Ghisolfi agrees, saying the advanced biofuel industry is at a tipping point. Not limiting himself to mentioning only his own company, Ghisolfi named DuPont, DSM and Raizen as examples of large corporations financially backing projects that will come online after the Beta Renewables plant. “Before, the story was, there’s no technology. Then the story was, there is technology but it’s not guaranteed,” he says. “Then, it’s guaranteed but not from the right size company, so how can we invest?” But clearly the situation has now changed. “In 2014, you will see the startup of several plants in the United States and Brazil, and all those plants are guaranteed and supported by large corporations. … We are just the first but there are other companies that are coming after us.”

Author: Holly Jessen
Managing Editor, Ethanol Producer Magazine