US DOE, USDA invest $600 million in cellulosic

By Kris Bevill | January 04, 2010
On Dec. 4, the USDA and U.S. DOE jointly announced the selection of 19 biorefinery projects to receive nearly $600 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for the purpose of constructing and operating pilot, demonstration and commercial-scale facilities. Projects were selected for their ability to validate refining technologies and lay the foundation for commercial-scale biomass industry development in the U.S., according to the DOE, and are part of the government's efforts to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and to create domestic jobs.

Of the $564 million awarded, up to $483 million will go toward 14 pilot-scale and 4 demonstration-scale biorefinery projects. The remaining $81 million will be used to accelerate construction of projects that have previously received funding. Recipients of the awards will collectively contribute more than $700 million in private and non-federal cost-share funds.

Many of the projects selected to receive funding plan to build out cellulosic ethanol production facilities, and all of the 19 projects selected for funding plan to ultimately produce biobased chemicals and/or drop-in replacement fuels. In response to EPM's inquiry about a possible shift in focus away from ethanol entirely, the DOE said it supports all biofuels that meet renewable fuel standard (RFS) definitions, adding that the RFS includes 16 billion gallons of cellulosic biofuels in 2022.

One of the projects to receive funding was a collaborative effort between Ineos Bio and New Planet Energy LLC. The Ineos New Planet BioEnergy joint venture received $50 million for its proposed 8 MMgy waste-to-ethanol facility to be located in Indian River County, Fla. Ineos Bio chief operating officer Mark Niederschulte said he hasn't received any indication that the DOE is moving away from ethanol. "I think [it's] focus right now is having someone produce commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol," he said. "Certainly, they'd like to see quick follow-on of people building cellulosic gasoline, butanol or jet fuel or something, but right now they just want cellulosic ethanol at a commercial scale." Ineos anticipates beginning construction on its commercial-scale facility in the by mid-year and to be fully operational at the end of 2011.

ZeaChem Inc., which broke ground in November on its semi-commercial scale cellulosic production facility in Oregon, received $25 million to further its project. "This award accelerates deployment of ZeaChem's integrated biorefinery and our progress to commercial production of advanced biofuels and biobased chemicals," ZeaChem President and CEO Jim Imbler said.

BlueFire Ethanol Fuels Inc. received $81 million as the second installment of DOE funding given to the company for its commercial-scale project. The DOE's total investment in the company is now approximately $88 million. President and CEO Arnold Klann said the company will use the money for Phase II of its Fulton, Miss., project, which will utilize BlueFire's patented concentrated acid hydrolysis process to produce ethanol from waste wood and trash.

ICM Inc. was selected to receive $25 million for its project to modify LifeLine Foods' 1 MMgy St. Joseph, Mo., facility to produce ethanol from switchgrass and sorghum. According to ICM, the co-location of the cellulosic demonstration facility with LifeLine's corn-based facility will demonstrate the capability of corn ethanol production facilities to increase total renewable fuels capacity by also producing ethanol from nonfood cellulosic materials.

EdeniQ Inc. and Logos Technologies Inc. were awarded $20.4 million to modify and operate EdeniQ's refinery site in Visalia, Calif., as a cellulosic ethanol facility, using corn stover and switchgrass as feedstocks. Logos will manage the project and EdeniQ will provide the technology. The companies' cost share for the project is approximately $5 million.

The U.S. subsidiary of Montreal-based Enerkem Corp. received $50 million to further its waste-to-biofuels facility in Pontotoc, Miss., which is projected to initially produce 10 MMgy of cellulosic ethanol but will be doubled in size once fully operational.

Finally, Algenol Biofuels Inc. was awarded $25 million for its project to use algae to produce ethanol from carbon dioxide and seawater.