Cellulosic producers advance projects

By Kris Bevill | October 14, 2010
Recent activities in the cellulosic ethanol industry have shown that while financing continues to be a major hurdle, technological advancements continue to be made and companies are beginning to construct their first commercial-scale facilities.

BlueFire Renewables Inc.
BlueFire has secured 15-year offtake and feedstock supply contracts for its proposed Fulton, Miss., plant and named Fargo., N.D.-based Wanzek Construction Inc. as its engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor. Company CEO Arnold Klann said the agreements will help BlueFire secure its pending $215 loan guarantee from the U.S. DOE. "There's no reason for this project not to get financed, save for the governmental loans not getting through due to bureaucratic hold-ups," he said. "We have met and greatly exceeded every criteria that we know of that has been set by the DOE loan guarantee program."

BlueFire's proposed 19 MMgy facility will convert various wood waste feedstocks into ethanol using the company's acid hydrolysis technology. Mobile, Ala.-based Cooper Marine & Timberlands will supply the facility with 770 dry tons per day of feedstock beginning in December 2012 at a cost of $25 per ton, according to Klann. When ethanol production begins, Tenaska Biofuels LLC has agreed to purchase and market all of the fuel produced at the plant. BlueFire's sale price will be based on a pricing contract that includes rack ethanol prices for the area to which the fuel will be delivered, minus transportation costs, with a kicker for renewable identification number (RIN) credits, he said.

Fiberight LLC
Fiberight and U.K.-based TMO Renewables Ltd. have agreed to design and build 15 commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol production facilities across the U.S. within the next five years. With capacities from 10 to 15 MMgy, they will utilize a combination of TMO's process technology and Fiberight's fractionation and digestion technology to convert municipal solid waste (MSW) to ethanol at a more efficient, cost-effective pace. "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," said Fiberight CEO Craig Stuart-Paul. Fiberight's 5 MMgy facility in Blairstown, Iowa, will serve as the initial site and others in the Mid-Atlantic and Florida areas have been identified for the next five plants.

Glycos Biotechnologies Inc.
Houston-based GlycosBio has engineered the first microbial platform for the synthesis of biofuels and biochemicals—ethanol, butanol, acetate, acetone, isopropanol, succinate and propionate—from fatty acids. "Until now, microbial platforms to enable the biological production of fuels and chemicals from fatty acids have been nearly non-existent," said Paul Campbell, chief science officer for GlycosBio. "Through our research, we were able to prove the effectiveness of fatty acids to produce higher value chemicals at very high yields with an empirical ethanol yield double that which is usually achieved with sugars. These results demonstrate that fatty acids can be a great alternative to cellulosic sugars."

Fulcrum BioEnergy Inc.
CEO Jim Macias said MSW currently being tipped at landfills in the Reno-Lake Tahoe, Nev., basin will provide approximately 90,000 tons of annual feedstock for Fulcrum's planned 10.5 MMgy Sierra Biofuels Plant near Reno.

The company began EPC activities earlier this year and expects to begin producing ethanol using a thermochemical process in mid-2012. A subsidiary of Fluor Corp. was awarded the contract to provide EPC services for the $120 million project.

"It took us longer to raise the capital in this very tough market, but we're very pleased to get this project going and demonstrate the commercial viability, not just for our project but for the industry," Macias said. Fulcrum is planning projects in Houston, Colorado, Florida, Oklahoma, Tennessee and New England.

Enerkem Inc.
Enerkem broke ground Aug. 31 on its 10 MMgy MSW-to-ethanol facility in Edmonton, Alberta, which will convert 100,000 metric tons of trash annually when it becomes operational. "As a result of this facility, we will become the first major city in North America to see 90 percent of residential waste diverted from landfill by 2013," said Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel.

"This groundbreaking marks the launch of a transformative project and leads the first wave of commercial-scale advanced biofuels plants in North America," Vincent Chornet, Enerkem president and CEO, said. Enerkem also is developing a 20 MMgy MSW-to-ethanol project in Pontotoc, Miss.

American Process Inc.
Georgia-based API began work in August on its 900,000 gallon per year cellulosic ethanol facility in Alpena, Mich. The plant will be co-located with a decorative panels industrial hardwood plant and will convert industrial wood hydrolyzate waste to ethanol and aqueous potassium acetate beginning next year. Valero Energy Corp. is invested in the project, which has so far also received approximately $23 million in state and federal grants.

Mascoma Corp.
Mascoma has acquired Canada's SunOpta BioProcess Inc. for $51 million. It will use SunOpta's first-step pretreatment process with its own technology to produce cellulosic ethanol more efficiently and cost-effectively. Mascoma CEO Bill Brady said the company chose SunOpta's technology because it is a steam explosion technology that uses no harsh chemicals or acids. Construction is to begin at the company's 20 to 40 MMgy plant in Kinross, Mich., by mid-2011 and be completed in 2013.

KL Energy Corp.
Wyoming-based KL Energy is working with Brazil's Petrobras to develop and commercialize bagasse-to-ethanol technology. Petrobras is investing $11 million in the project, which will be used to modify KL Energy's demonstration facility and fund process optimization and technology licensing. The companies will install the technology at one of Petrobras Group's Brazilian sugarcane mills. The 4 MMgy project is expected to be completed in 2013.