Verenium to build Florida cellulosic ethanol facility

By Erin Voegele | January 12, 2009
Web exclusive posted Jan. 19, 2009, at 10:25 a.m. CST

Massachusetts-based Verenium Corp. recently announced plans to build its first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facility in Highlands County, Fla. The plant will be the first in the state of Florida to use next-generation cellulosic ethanol technology to convert renewable grasses to fuel.

Construction on the 36 MMgy facility is expected to begin during the second half of 2009, with fuel production beginning in 2011. Verenium estimates that once commercial operations have begun, the project will provide the region with 140 full-time jobs. Additional jobs will be created during construction of the facility, which is expected to take 18 to 24 months.

According to Charles Davis, Verenium's senior vice president of commercial development, the facility is expected to utilize approximately 400,000 dry tons of biomass annually. This biomass material will consist primarily of high-biomass producing varieties of sorghum and energy cane.

Verenium has entered into long-term agreements with Lykes Bros. Inc., a multi-generation Florida agri-business, to provide the agricultural biomass for the project. Carlos A. Riva, Verenium's president and chief executive officer, said the partnership with Lykes Bros. will provide the basis for a long-term supply of biomass feedstock, which is essential to ensuring that next-generation biofuels are cost-efficient.

The agreements between Verenium and Lykes Bros. include a facility site option and a long-term farm lease. Under these agreements, Lykes Bros. will provide the necessary feedstock from approximately 20,000 farmable acres adjacent to the site. According to Davis, the quantity of biomass that the plant will use requires a significant integration between the farming operation and the ethanol conversion facility.

"I characterize this operation as being a factory, which happens to cover something like 20,000 acres," Davis continued. "All the operations between what's happening at the farm and what's happening inside the ethanol conversion facility have to be very carefully orchestrated and integrated because there is a tremendous amount of feedstock that is going though there."

It's estimated that the plant will cost between $250 million and $300 million to build. The project has received a $7 million grant from Florida Agricultural and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson's Farm to Fuel initiative, which is designed to stimulate the development of a renewable energy industry in Florida. The program provides matching grants to bioenergy firms for demonstration, commercialization, and research and development projects utilizing Florida-grown biomass or crops. Verenium was also awarded an additional incentive package from the state of Florida.