Fall Ethanol Plant Map

Many proposed projects in holding pattern
By Kris Bevill, Holly Jessen, Susanne Retka Schill | October 18, 2011

The fall 2011 edition of the Fuel Ethanol Plant Map enclosed with this issue of Ethanol Producer Magazine shows few changes in the existing corn-based ethanol industry while second-generation projects continue to develop.

The stragglers from the big corn-ethanol buildout—Hereford Renewable Energy LLC, Aventine Renewable Energy-Aurora West LLC, and Aventine Renewable Energy-Mt. Vernon LLC—have completed construction. But, because the Aurora West plant has not yet started up, it remains on the under construction list. Notably, it’s now the only grain-based U.S. ethanol plant on the under construction list.

One of the best-read features in past issues of Ethanol Producer Magazine was the annual review of proposed plants, which often covered multiple pages. Beginning in spring 2010, EPM added the list of proposed projects to the twice-yearly map. In the past two years, some of those projects have slowly dropped off the list as developers come to terms with the reality that the ethanol boom has fizzled. That spring 2010 list of U.S. grain/sugar-based proposed plants numbered 35—this time around, the number is 26. Of those projects, many are in a holding pattern, not willing to give up on the idea, but not able to move forward due to high corn prices or lack of financing.

That’s not to say there’s no movement. Highlands EnviroFuels LLC, a project of U.S. EnviroFuels LLC, reported at the end of September that it had received its air construction permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The company plans to break ground in the early second quarter of 2012 on a 30 MMgy sugar cane and sweet sorghum plant near Lake Placid, Fla., that will also produce up to 30 megawatts of renewable power from bagasse.

Financing continues to be the black cloud hanging over many proposed cellulosic ethanol projects. Nearly every proposed project that has not advanced in the past year cited the difficulty in acquiring financing. Many project leaders also commented that unclear policy messages from Washington have caused hesitation in the investment community. Some proposed projects are now looking to Asia for financing, while others have decided to drop their projects completely. “It’s been four and a half years of research and spending money with good results, but the financial situation in this country is ‘wait and see,’” said one project developer who has decided to shelve plans indefinitely. Many other projects say they are in “wait and see” mode until the financial climate improves.

Despite the many difficulties, there are bright spots on the cellulosic map this fall. Several plants are actively under construction, including the 23 MMgy Abengoa Bioenergy Biomass of Kansas LLC project in Hugoton, Kan. and the 8 MMgy Ineos New Planet Bioenergy LLC plant in Vero Beach, Fla. Both facilities have received federal loan guarantees for their projects. To further attest to the power of federal loan backing, Poet LLC, which has already installed storage space and conducted preliminary construction activities at the site of its 25 MMgy plant in Emmetsberg, Iowa, is also expected to soon begin constructing its main biorefinery now that it has received final approval for a U.S. DOE loan guarantee. Ineos expects to begin producing cellulosic ethanol next year. Abengoa and Poet will come online the following year. BP, which is financing its $400 million 36 MMgy plant in Florida independently, has not yet begun construction of the facility, but planted feedstock in the form of energy grasses this fall. The company expects to have its facility up and running in 2013.

—Kris Bevill, Holly Jessen, Susanne Retka Schill 



Fall Ethanol Plant Map: Feedstock Check

Corn ethanol dwarfs all other feedstocks when the numbers are analyzed from the Fall Ethanol Plant Map: 

• The grand total of all first- and second-generation, existing, under construction and proposed plants is 17.27 billion gallons.

• Straight corn and corn combined with milo or small grains totals 15.94 billion gallons of ethanol capacity, proposed and existing. Of that, 13.77 billion gallons is existing ethanol capacity using straight corn.

• Other feedstocks using the first-generation, starch/sugar conversion platform are miniscule in comparison, with 115 million gallons using barley and wheat and 136 million gallons using sugar crops or waste sugars.

• The cellulosic ethanol scene is far more diverse, although dominated by hybrid plants using corn, stover and other cellulosic feedstocks, totaling 380 MMgy in capacity. Of that, 70 MMgy is listed as corn stover only. Just 9 MMgy in capacity has been built, and another 86 MMgy is now under construction, leaving this category represented by nearly 650 MMgy in proposed capacity—a number that will undoubtedly be very fluid as new projects are proposed and others put on the back burner. The accompanying  chart shows the breakout by broad feedstock categories for all the cellulosic ethanol plants on the list this fall.

—Kris Bevill, Holly Jessen, Susanne Retka Schill