Companies make progress in cellulosic arena

By Holly Jessen | August 27, 2010
As the U.S. EPA slashed its targeted volume standard for 2011 cellulosic ethanol production (see previous story), a report from the U.S. Governmental Accountability Office report shed light on one of the causes for the slower-than-expected build out of cellulosic capacity. The GAO report released in late July found flaws with the U.S. DOE Loan Guarantee Program. With a current loan guarantee authority of $77 billion, the DOE had only issued one loan guarantee for $535 million as of April and made nine conditional commitments. The GAO, which was mandated by Congress to conduct the review, found that the DOE treated applicants inconsistently and lacked a mechanism for appeals or feedback. It also recommended that the DOE come up with more performance goals for the Loan Guarantee Program. The DOE didn't take issue with the findings and said it is taking steps to address the GOA's concerns.

Two oil majors made moves this summer to bolster their efforts in cellulosic ethanol developments. In July, BP Biofuels purchased Verenium Corp.'s cellulosic biofuels business for $98.3 million. Included in the deal are the pilot plant and demonstration-scale facilities in Jennings, La. Verenium will continue in its core commercial enzyme business and will transition out of its research and development facilities in San Diego, Calif., during the next two years. BP will pay Verenium another $10.8 million in cash to be released upon assignment of its lease for that facility. "By acquiring Verenium's cellulosic biofuels technologies, BP Biofuels should be well placed to accelerate the delivery of low-cost, low-carbon, sustainable biofuels, at scale," said Philip New, CEO of BP Biofuels.

Following the BP announcement, Verenium promoted Executive Vice President Janet Roemer to president and chief operating officer of Verenium's enzymes business. She joined Verenium in 2008, moving over from BP Group where she had held several positions.

In a similar move, a Royal Dutch Shell plc. executive will be taking over direction of Iogen Energy, a 50-50 joint venture of Shell and Iogen Corp. In early July, Duncan Macleod was appointed chief operating officer of Iogen Energy and on Sept. 30 he will step in as president and CEO. Brian Foody, founding president and current CEO, will take on the duties of chairman of Iogen Energy and continue to serve as president and CEO of Iogen Corp.

Several other big-name cellulosic ethanol companies received funding or otherwise moved ahead on projects during June and July. ICM Inc. signed a cooperative agreement with the DOE, receiving $25 million to construct and operate a cellulosic ethanol pilot in St. Joseph, Mo. The company plans to modify its existing pilot plant at LifeLine Foods LLC to produce fuel from corn fiber, switchgrass and energy sorghum. ICM will contribute $6 million of its own funds to compete the project.

BlueFire Ethanol Fuels Inc. announced that it had completed Phase I of the DOE loan guarantee program and was moving on to Phase II. The company has applied for a $230 loan guarantee to build a 19 MMgy facility to produce cellulosic ethanol from woody biomass, mill residue and other cellulosic waste in Fullton, Miss.

INEOS Bio made two announcements recently concerning projects here and abroad. The company was awarded $11.6 million in grant money to build a 7.9 MMgy ethanol plant in England to convert biodegradable household and commercial waste to ethanol. INEOS New Planet BioEnergy, a joint venture between INEOS Bio and Florida-based New Planet Energy LLC, said it officially took ownership of a former juice factory, located next to a Florida landfill in Indian River County. When completed, the ethanol plant will produce 8 MMgy from renewable biomass including yard, wood and vegetative wastes.
Another company concentrating on municipal solid waste (MSW), Fiberight LLC, hopes to have its second MSW-to-ethanol demonstration plant up and running by the end of August. The company, which completed its first plant in Blairstown, Iowa, in May, will install a second demonstration plant in Lawrenceville, Va., the current location of the company's pilot plant. Fiberight is working with CleanTech Biofuels Inc. which will install its patented biomass recovery process at the Lawrenceville plant using steam and pressure to clean and separate MSW into biomass and recyclables. The biomass will then be processed into cellulosic ethanol using Fiberight's targeted fuel extraction process. CleanTech announced in early July that it had received a patent for its process from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.