Akuo Energy to build plant in Uruguay

By Susanne Retka Schill | November 03, 2008
Web exclusive posted Nov. 6, 2008 at 11:17 a.m. CST

Paris-based Akuo Energy SA plans to build a 30 MMgy sweet-sorghum-based ethanol plant in Uruguay. It will be Akuo's first international ethanol plant.

With Akuo Energy supplying the equity investment, financing arrangements are currently being negotiated, said Alain Castro, president of Akuo Energy South America. The last of the necessary governmental permits is expected to be approved this month. A long-term contract on 11 hectares (27 acres) is in place within a free trade zone at the port city of Nueva Palmira, Uruguay. Construction is scheduled to begin in April.

The plant will use sweet sorghum as its feedstock for five months out of the year, with grain sorghum used initially to fill out the remainder of the year's production. The facility is being designed to handle both dry milling of grain, plus diffusion preparation for the sweet sorghum. "Grain sorghum is actually a stepping-stone for us," Castro added. "We aim to complete the full-year cycle with other sugar-based feedstocks such as beetroot and energy-cane, and are actively performing annual agricultural trials on both of these feedstocks." The company is experimenting with different varieties of sweet sorghum to see if some can be left in the field beyond the normal harvest window without sugar content losses in the stalk. In addition, Uruguayan grain producers will benefit from having a rotational crop to diversify their mono-cropped soybean fields, he said.

"Akuo Energy is proud of its efforts on the Uruguayan project, as it believes there has been lots of press around sweet sorghum, but to-date we have yet to see an industrial scale sweet-sorghum-to-ethanol plant in operation," Castro said. "We have worked hard to design the plant such that it will become a model of sustainable ethanol production processes."

The plant will be designed to be 100 percent self-sufficient, using methanization to produce biogas from the vinasses (thin stillage) and the bagasse (solid waste) from the sorghum, to provide process heat and electricity. The company expects to generate enough electricity for its own needs, plus an excess to sell into the national grid. The plant will compost the remaining effluents after the methanization process to sell as fertilizer, and, in the months that grain sorghum is used as the feedstock, the company will supply distillers grain to the country's cattle feedlots.

For more information on Akuo Energy, contact Alain Castro at castro@akuoenergy.com.