Will plant construction pick up in 2009?

By Bryan Sims | February 04, 2009
This month's plant construction list contains 21 plants with a combined production capacity of 1.75 billion gallons. In comparison, 63 plants were under construction at this time last year with a combined capacity of 4.67 billion gallons.

To give the bigger picture, 2008 began with 67 plants under construction with a combined capacity of 4.79 billion gallons. That total began declining in April, and the year ended with 31 plants under construction with a combined capacity of 2.84 billion gallons.

2009 began with 31 plants under construction with a total capacity of 2.7 billion gallons, and that number continues to decrease. What will the rest of the year bring? With a bearish credit market for grain-based ethanol, more plants may begin making the transition to cellulose.

Some on this list have already committed to making this transition. Range Fuels Inc. is using a U.S. DOE grant awarded in mid-2007 to build a wood-based cellulosic ethanol plant in Soperton, Ga. The facility is being built in two phases: 10 MMgy, followed by 100 MMgy.

Other plants may stick with grain-based feedstocks, but perhaps not corn. Appomattox Bio Energy, owned by Osage Bio Energy LLC, plans to use barley to produce ethanol in
Hopewell, Va. According to Osage Bio Energy Chief Operating Officer Joel Stone, surveying crews were conducting soil testing in January before concrete work began. "We're detailing the design on all of our foundations," he said. "Construction crews and their trailers are all on-site." Osage Bio Energy is a sister company to Roanoke, Va.-based Osage Inc., an
independent ethanol distributor in the Southeast.

The April issue of EPM will include the annual Proposed Ethanol Plant List. From this, some production patterns may emerge, along with a more defined direction for 2009 and beyond.