U.S., Canadian Project Roundup

The North American ethanol industry has had its share of bumps in the road, yet a dozen plants came online the past year, a handful are still under construction and some intriguing projects are proposed.
By Holly Jessen and Luke Geiver | June 10, 2010
In the past year, companies building ethanol plants in the U.S. and Canada have completed construction or moved forward with proposed projects. One happy success story is Aventine Renewable Energy Inc., which pulled out of bankruptcy and announced it would restart construction at two 108 MMgy plants in Mt. Vernon, Ind., and Aurora, Neb.

A year ago, EPM published a list of 14 ethanol plants that were under construction, the majority of which have been completed. In the U.S. that list includes, Abengoa Bioenergy of Indiana LLC, Mt. Vernon; Abengoa Bioenergy of Illinois, Madison; Archer Daniels Midland Co., Columbus, Neb.; Big River Resources Galva LLC, Galva, Ill.; Bionol Clearfield LLC, Clearfield, Pa.; Clean Burn Fuels LLC, Raeford, N.C.; Highwater Ethanol LLC, Lamberton, Minn., Homeland Energy Solutions LLC, Lawler, Iowa; and One Earth Energy LLC, Gibson City, Ill. Two plants in Canada completed construction as well: Kwartha Ethanol Inc., Havelock, Ontario, and Northwest Bio-Energy Ltd., Unity, Saskatchewan.

Other companies restarted operations at formerly idled plants. Pacific Ethanol Inc. worked out a reorganization plan and restarted operations at its 60 MMgy Burley, Idaho, plant and White Energy emerged from bankruptcy and restarted its 110 MMgy White Energy Plainview plant in Texas. After Mid-America Agri Products filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and mothballed a 44 MMgy ethanol plant in Cambridge, Neb., for about a year, it was restarted by new owner Nebraska Corn Processing LLC in March. Oil companies got in on the ethanol action too. Valero Energy Corp. purchased Renew Energy, (now Valero Renewables Jefferson) for $72 million, and Sunoco Inc., purchased a 100 MMgy bankrupt plant in New York for $8.5 million that is currently undergoing retrofitting.

Of course, the news hasn't all been good. For other projects, construction has stalled indefinitely. Some sites for potential ethanol plants have been sitting empty, with little to no activity for long periodseven years. One plant, Minnesota Energy, a 20 MMgy corn ethanol plant in Buffalo Lake, Minn., suspended production indefinitely in March and laid off workers.

Under Construction
The list of ethanol plants using a first generation starch/sugar platform currently under construction in the U.S. and Canada is quite short. (For more information about cellulosic ethanol projects, see the following article.)

One plant on that list is ADM's Cedar Rapids, Iowa, facility. The ethanol and agribusiness giant will add another 300 MMgy to its current capacity of 1.515 billion once construction is completed. The company expects to wrap that up this summer.

With 25 operating ethanol facilities in Nebraska, Wolverine Ethanol LLC is currently working on two new facilities, Alcorn Energy LLC in Phelps County, Neb., and Hi-Line Ethanol LLC in Frontier County, Neb. Tom Randazzo, manager of Wolverine says they are still putting together financing for both facilities.

In Hopewell, Va., Appamattox Bioenergy LLC, is pioneering a plant model in the U.S. for a large, barley-based ethanol plant. President and CEO Craig Shealy says members of the plant toured ethanol facilities in Belgium, Austria, France and Spain to help in the design on the soon-to-be completed Virginia plant, working with their design team to create a one-of-a-kind 65 MMgy facility. "There was no one plant we could go to that would be exactly like ours," Shealy says. "We had to piece it together based on the components we could see and use." The plant, which will be completed this summer and go online in early fall, will employ roughly 55 people when finished. "We are focused on originating winter barley," Shealy says. "It is the best long term feedstock for our region." The plant is capable of using almost all cereal grains Shealy says, but is unique because of the facility's design specific to barley. Shealy says he was very pleased with the team of designers, Katzen International Inc. and KBR Inc. during the process.

"We are also looking at more projects, but we would like to see margins get a little better," Shealy adds. In the meantime, the plant has already signed on with Land O'Lakes Purina Feed to market the distillers grains coproduct from the facility which will be called barley protein meal (BPM). Darian Carpenter of Land O'Lakes predicts the BPM will be popular in the U.S. and Europe because it will be produced from non-genetically modified grain. Located in what Shealy says is a historically industrial town, the project has been well received by the community. "We've learned a lot in the process, even without a model to look at." Shealy says. The Appamattox plant has no debt from the project. As for the outlook by Shealy on the grind margins, "We think they'll get better. It just might take some time."

Proposed Plants
EPM's 2010 spring plant map added proposed plants for the first time, listing 28 proposed projects in the U.S. and four in Canada. Following is a brief review of some of the most promising or interesting projects on that list.

Inland Pacific Energy Center LLC is one proposed project that is aiming for both ethanol and biodiesel production, says Bob Doughty, project manager. The goal is to build a 138 MMgy ethanol plant and a 96 MMgy biodiesel plant in Stanfield, Ore. Although not all permitting was completed, funding for the project is nearly done and it's possible the group could break ground by November, Doughty says. The energy center will utilize multiple grains as a feedstock for the ethanol plant and will also market corn oil to the edible market. Katzen International Inc. is the ethanol technology provider and Crown Iron Works is working on the biodiesel side. The company plans to use canola as the biodiesel feedstock. In the future, besides traditional ethanol and biodiesel, the company hopes to also make second generation ethanol. "We're designing our plant so that we could convert to cellulosic when it gets to the point where it is profitable," Doughty says.

Already growing over 500 acres of sugarcane for its first commercial sugarcane-to-ethanol facility, California Ethanol + Power LLC has big plans to construct multiple sugarcane-to-ethanol facilities in California's Imperial Valley and in the adjacent Palo Verde Valley.

The first facility will be located in a county Specific Plan area and a California Enterprise Zone. The company reports that it is well into the permitting process, and expects its initial project to be in commercial operations mid-2012. CE+P is partnered with Brazilian sugarcane ethanol technology provider Dedini S/A as well as U.S.-based green energy design/builder Fagen Inc.

Alpha Holdings LLC wants to build two ethanol plants in Iowa: Tama Renewable Energy Campuses LLC, a 110 MMgy plant proposed for Tama, Iowa, and Dexter Renewable Energy Campuses LLC, a 54 MMgy plant proposed for Dexter, Iowa. Previously called simply Dexter Ethanol and Tama Ethanol, the names were changed to reflect the fact that they will be ethanol and more, says Chris Miller, CEO and managing member, who declined to elaborate on what that included. Both plants are expected to utilize corn and cellulose as feedstocks. All permits are in hand and the sites are shovel ready, Miller told EPM. The plan is to break ground yet this summer. "It's been a long struggle," he adds.

In Cadiz, Ohio, a group of farmers want to build a 23 MMgy ethanol plant that will produce both food and energy. Harrison Ethanol LLC will be an integrated bio-refinery that will produce, along with fuel, CO2, beef, milk, corn germ (oil), green electricity, renewable solid fuels and wet and dry distillers grains. The plan is to feed wet distillers grains on site to beef and dairy cattle. The manure from the animals and waste from the ethanol process will be used to produce biogas in an anaerobic digester for power needs with excess power sold to the grid. In April, the group obtained a final permit from the Ohio Department of Agriculture for the confined animal feeding facility. It will have a capacity of 10,000 head of cattle and 2,000 cows.

In Illinois, the plans for a 117 MMgy corn ethanol plant called Algonquian Ethanol are moving forward. Using Applied Process Technology LLC, the Princeton facility will produce 85 percent fuel grade ethanol and 15 percent high grade, industrial ethyl alcohol. "We are very optimistic about our new technology," says Chet Perry, president and CEO of Algonquian. "We believe the technology can be used for retrofits. It's exciting for the entire industry." The technology, which will be presented at the 2010 International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo, includes combined heat and power (CHP) and the use of distillers grains for biomass-based power. "This will enable us to have an enormous energy savings," Perry says. The distillers grains will be sent directly to the boiler with a moisture content of 46-49 percent. The process will allow the plant to generate roughly 15 megawatts (MW) of electricity to run the plant, while the remaining 40-45 MW can be sold back to the local grid, according to Perry. The Princeton plant is already permitted without the use of the new technology, and emissions testing for the new techonology need to be completed for additional permits. The plant should come online sometime in 2011. "We are also hopeful and optimistic that these new technologies will qualify and be approved with the EPA under the RFS2 program for an advanced fuel technology," Perry says.

The first ethanol plant on a reservation was closing in on financing in early May. Groundwork was expected to begin this summer at Wagner Native Ethanol LLC, a 50 MMgy plant proposed for Wagner, S.D. "We're getting awfully, awfully close," says Bill Riechers, project coordinator. The plant, which will be designed and built by Fagen Inc. and ICM Inc., will be different from other dry mills. It will have fractionation built into the original design rather than added in later, Riechers says. The plant will use the CO2 naturally present as part of the fermentation process to recover food grade oil. As a result, the distillers grains will contain 50 percent protein and no sulfur. Previous technologies for oil recovery often include the use of hexane gas, which is a "nasty, proven carcinogen" that is seven times more explosive than gas, Riechers says.

In the Southeast, a proposed non-corn-feedstock ethanol project, Agro-Gas Industries LLC, is planned in McMinn County, Tenn. "We are still seeking the necessary funding," says Tom Monahan, partner and CEO of the company. "Our research is on-going with new feedstock sources and processes developing each month." One of the feedstocks the plant may use is the kudzu plant. Originally from Japan, the plant is a vine-like weed that grows predominantly in the South.

Three plants on the East Coast are still seeking financing. The proposed locations at Chester, S.C., Seaboard, N.C., and Jessup, Ga., will all use a corn feedstock and produce roughly 110 MMgy. "We have scrapped plans for a plant in Campbellton, Fla., at this time due to more restrictive air permitting requirements required by Florida Department of Environmental Protection," says Lee Hatch of East Coast Ethanol LLC, the parent company for all three proposed plants. "We are still working to get our financing in place for the other plants."

South of those three proposed plants, Southeast Renewable Fuels LLC has its eye on a rural area outside Clewiston, Fla., for a 22 MMgy ethanol plant. The main feedstock will be sweet sorghum, although molasses derived from sweet sorghum or sugarcane may also be used. The facility will include a combined heat and power plant, using sweet sorghum bagasse with excess power sold to the grid. The company also plans to install a CO2 dry ice plant on site, where gasses from the fermentation process can be converted to dry ice or liquid CO2 for sale. In March, the company submitted its air permit to the Florida Department of Environmental protection for review. "Financing is in place and an announcement forthcoming," says Don Markley, executive vice president and chief operating officer. The plant is the first of three that the company hopes to construct. EP

Luke Geiver and Holly Jessen are associate editors of Ethanol Producer Magazine. Reach Geiver at (701) 738-4944 or lgeiver@bbiinternational.com and Jessen at (701) 738-4946 or hjessen@