Biomass Breakaways

A review of the line up of in-depth reporting in the November print issue of Ethanol Producer Magazine.
By Tom Bryan | October 20, 2016

Just before press time, the U.S. EPA released a pile of suggestions intended to enhance the renewable fuel standard. Among the voluminous, 375-page offering is a proposed regulatory revision that would allow biofuels producers to process feedstock at one facility and convert the resulting material into fuels at another using existing pathways. That specific proposal lends support to a big idea covered in this month’s lead-off feature, “The Odd Decouple,” on page 24. Authored by Executive Editor Tim Portz, the story shares researcher notions about disconnecting the early steps of biomass processing from subsequent downstream conversions—just like the EPA wants to sanction. The idea is that biofuels and bioenergy plants would benefit from insulating themselves from the difficult, risky job of breaking down the material under the same roof where it’s made into fuel, power or heat. Decentralizing and outsourcing biomass prep work sounds futuristic, but it’s an idea with technical merit and, now, federal endorsement.

Corn stover, maybe the world’s most prominent cellulosic ethanol feedstock, is a great candidate for distributed preprocessing. Yet, today, it’s the sugars derived from stover that are the likely near-term derivatives of process decoupling. In “New Pathways for Stover,” on page 28, Associate Editor Ann Bailey reports on alternative uses for the abundant residues of corn, including one company’s plan to convert stover and wheat straw into salable, high-end sugars.  

In “Fiber: Feedstock of the Future,” on page 34, we compare the pursuit of corn-fiber-to-ethanol conversion with the broader challenge of taming biomass fiber of all manner. Managing Editor Susanne Retka Schill relays the accomplishments of two seasoned front-end separation technology providers, and explains the challenge of making fiber flow through an ethanol plant’s numerous conduits without stoppage.

Our cover story, “Wet Cake Max-imization,” on page 40, acquaints readers with Mark Yancey and D3Max, another company pursuing corn-fiber-to-ethanol, albeit from back-end wet cake that’s already been cooked. As Bailey reports, D3Max is at a pivotal point in its development, with a pilot plant under construction, multiple producers interested in hosting the unit, and commercial design work underway. 

In our anchor spot, on page 44, Retka Schill follows up on the sale of five Abengoa Bioenergy first-gen ethanol plants. In all, three buyers paid a collective $357 million for the facilities in September. The sale of Abengoa’s stranded cellulosic ethanol plant in Hugoton, Kansas—never fully operational—is expected to close later this year, basically ending the Spain-based corporation’s respectable, brave tenure in North American ethanol.

Author: Tom Bryan
President & Editor in Chief