BlueFire Ethanol receives DOE funding

By Bryan Sims | July 08, 2008
Web exclusive posted August 4, 2008 at 11:24 a.m. CST

Irvine, Calif.-based cellulosic ethanol company BlueFire Ethanol Fuels Inc. has received its first installment of U.S. DOE funding for the development of its BlueFire Mecca LLC facility near Palm Springs, Calif.

The company is expected to break ground next year on the plant, which is expected to be online in 2010. Approximately 17 MMgy of cellulosic ethanol will be produced from wood wastes, cardboard and paper, as well as other biomass that would otherwise be thrown into a landfill.

BlueFire was one of six U.S. cellulosic ethanol companies to be awarded a total of $40 million in DOE funding aimed at increasing the use of renewable and alternative fuels. The funding was announced in March 2007. BlueFire is the first entity to draw down on the grant money to use towards advancement of the project, said Arnold Klan, BlueFire's chairman, president and chief executive officer.

"The negotiations were hard and long because, of course, as the DOE is trying to protect the stakeholders, which is the people of the U.S. to make sure this technology gets deployed," Klann said. "They were tough negotiators but we got our agreements in place and we feel very confident that we can execute on that project. We're excited that we're able to draw down that sum of money."

A pioneer in cellulosic ethanol production, BlueFire holds the exclusive North American rights for process technology developed by Arkenol Fuels LLC. Arkenol's patented process utilizes a "concentrated acid hydrolysis" pathway, which is amenable for handling the wide range of feedstocks BlueFire intends to use, according to Klann. BlueFire can get about 70 gallons of ethanol per ton of biomass material, "so it'll have a high conversion efficiency," Klann added.

By locating its plant in southern California, the company will utilize this process to meet the needs of a regional market that has a high demand for ethanol while allaying the onus on cities and municipalities to handle increasing amounts of landfill waste.

"It enhances the economics for the landfill operator," Klann said. "For us, it gives us a cheap source and a credit-worthy feedstock source for our facility so we can finance this project."

The southern California-based cellulosic ethanol facility is a replicable model of a process that can be implemented at several sites across the country, serving the dual purpose of waste management and biofuel production. Klann said BlueFire has signed a letter of intent (LOI) with Petro-Diamond Inc., an Irvine, Calif.-based fuel marketer, to sell its cellulosic ethanol once it becomes commercially available.

"By this plant going in and being truly the first commercial plant that's under construction converting cellulose to ethanol, this is going to go a long way in meeting the goals and objectives that Congress and the Bush Administration have put in place to get us off imported foreign oil," Klann said. "This is history-making and we're excited because we believe we're going to be building many more of these facilities in the future."

Meanwhile, BlueFire was recently granted a conditional-use permit (CUP) from the County of Los Angeles Department of Regional Planning to construct an additional biomass waste-to-ethanol facility to be located in Antelope Valley near Lancaster, Calif. The facility is expected to produce approximately 3.2 MMgy of cellulosic ethanol from biomass materials such as woodchips, grass cuttings and other organic fractions.

Klann said that the company plans to break ground either late September or early October, with an anticipated start-up date mid-next year. The plant will also utilize reclaimed water and generate its own electricity and steam from lignin produced as a byproduct of the process.

To learn more about BlueFire and its developments, visit