Fiberight, TMO to build 15 plants in 5 years

By Kris Bevill | September 23, 2010
Posted Sept. 23, 2010

Cellulosic ethanol company Fiberight LLC and U.K.-based TMO Renewables Ltd. have entered into an exclusive agreement that includes plans to design and build 15 commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol production facilities across the U.S. within the next five years. Fiberight's 5 MMgy Blairstown, Iowa, facility will serve as the initial collaborative effort. Sites in the Mid-Atlantic and Florida areas have been identified for the next five plants, which Fiberight CEO Craig Stuart-Paul said will range in capacity from 10 to 15 MMgy.

The facilities will utilize a combination of TMO's process technology and Fiberight's fractionation and digestion technology, which will allow the facilities to convert municipal solid waste (MSW) to ethanol at a more efficient, cost-effective pace, according to Stuart-Paul. "Integrating TMO's process with our own will give Fiberight the edge compared with other ethanol producing technologies, allowing us to be more efficient with waste than our competitors," he said. "Together, the companies are on track to become one of the largest producers of cellulosic ethanol in the U.S. during 2011, helping to divert millions of tons of waste away from landfills every year."

Work has already begun to install specialized vessels and additional MSW processing equipment at Fiberight's Blairstown plant. Earlier this month, Fiberight received a $2.9 million grant from the Iowa Power Fund Board which will be used to assist in financing the build out. Don Tormey, spokesman for the Iowa Office of Energy Independence, which oversees the power fund, said the Blairstown plant was selected for funding because it meets the program's goals to accelerate research and development and improve the economic competitiveness of alternative energy sources. To date, the only other cellulosic project to receive funding from the Iowa Power Fund Board is Poet LLC, according to Tormey.

Meanwhile, TMO is continuing to test MSW pulps produced at Fiberight's Virginia-based pilot plant at its own demonstration plant in the U.K. Stuart-Paul said that while the TMO process will improve production efficiency, there will be few significant changes to the overall production process. Non-recycled MSW acquired by Fiberight will be processed using its digestion and fractionation technology before being fed directly into TMO's biomass-to-ethanol process. Stuart-Paul said Novozymes A/S will continue to supply enzymes for Fiberight's conversion process.

According to TMO, the 20-year contract between the two companies has the potential to be worth more than $25 million annually. TMO will receive an initial one-off design fee plus recurring annual revenues from each facility. Fiberight will receive revenues from ethanol produced at the facilities as well as tipping fees for the MSW feedstock acquired for each plant. Stuart-Paul said locally sourced MSW will be used at each facility, so plants will be located in areas with large amounts of available feedstock. Feedstock agreements have not yet been acquired for any of the proposed sites. Stuart-Paul said that, unlike some other companies, Fiberight is focused on proving the technology process before cementing feedstock agreements. "We think that's putting the cart before the horse," he added.