Beta Renewables CEO declares cellulosic ethanol now ready

By Susanne Retka Schill | March 05, 2013

Interest in the Beta Renewables SpA commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant undergoing commissioning in Crescentino, Italy, has been high. “I was surprised,” said Guido Ghisolfi, CEO. “I expected perhaps 10 groups a month would be interested in seeing the facility, but it has been 10 a week. And it hasn’t been just journalists and consultants, but heads of industrial companies from five continents.”

Ghisolfi will be speaking at the World Biofuels Markets Congress being held March 12-14 in Rotterdam. He says he will bring the attendees up to date on the 13 MMgy Crescentino project, and hopes to dispel the notion that the infant cellulosic ethanol industry is struggling, but rather demonstrate that it is poised to take off.

For a long time, detractors said the second generation of biofuels production would never happen because the technology wasn’t there, Ghisolfi said, and if it were, the cost would be too high. The technology is being deployed now, and the first-of-the-kind plants are coming online. The enzyme providers are able to give cost guarantees and with the first plants finally built, the builders such as Chemtex International Inc. or Fagen Inc. will be able to put firm price tags on the next ones, he said. Concerns about the availability of biomass are being answered by the growing emphasis on multifeedstock technologies. “One by one we are peeling down the risk level,” Ghisolfi told Ethanol Producer Magazine. Now that there is steel in the ground and a plant and a process that can be seen, interested companies and their financiers are willing to deal. He expects the company will exceed its goal of selling 10 plants this year and 20 more next year.

While there is vocal opposition to biofuels in both Europe and North America, Ghisolfi pointed out that when Mossi & Ghisolfi Group decided to invest $250 million in research and development on second-generation biofuels, it was not done with any expectation of continued subsidies. “The fuel is competitive. People will buy it because it is cheaper.” Regardless of subsidies or policy support, he added, “Ethanol and biofuels are here to stay.”

Ghisolfi leads a suite of companies owned by Mossi & Ghisolfi, a $3 billion per year chemical firm that ranks as one of the world’s largest PET producers (a polymer used in plastics bottles and multiple other products.) Chemtex is its wholly-owned global engineering, procurement and construction company and cellulosic technology company Beta Renewables is a joint venture between M&G and TPG Capital and TPG Biotech. Danish enzyme-maker, Novozymes SA joined the venture in October, investing $115 million in cash, acquiring a 10 percent share in Beta Renewables along with marketing and other intellectual property rights. 

In addition to the plant under commissioning in Italy, Beta Renewables has licensed its technology to Brazil’s GraalBio Investimentos SA which expects the first of several planned plants to be mechanically complete by the end of the year and started up in early 2014. A Chemtex/Beta Renewables project in North Carolina has receive a conditional $99 million USDA loan guarantee. Ghisolfi said the company is still working through the planning details and hopes to begin construction in the third quarter.

The plant in Cresentino has been undergoing the commissioning process since last summer. It is not the first first-of-its-kind plant that his company has built, Ghisolfi explained. “The very first day you start up a plant, nothing works,” he said. Within a few weeks that’s down to a hundred issues and, as various problems are solved, narrows down to five or six issues. “Then you have to stop for redesign and it takes one or two months to fix,” he said. The process design is working, but while they had properly anticipated variability in moisture and sizing, he said they are working through issues raised by unexpected variability in foreign materials coming in with the biomass. The plant has been run successfully for several consecutive days, he reports, but then will shut down to make changes to the flows in the plant. He expects the commissioning process will be completed by the end of the second quarter.  




6 Responses

  1. stan



    We don't need to, and with the drought and population growth we shouldn't use land to grow fuel. There are better options, for energy like,Safe,new,nuclear, like the terra power. that Bill Gates promotes, and could be tied with air fuel synthesis. and also produce carbon free energy for electric cars. Also, the proterro. that makes the sucrose instead of extracting it, lowering the cost of sugar for the economical and scalable production of biofuels. We really should support and fast track these options for a cleaner, healthier planet, and for the best future for America and the world. But the RFS mandates take away resources(money, research) and stifles better options by forcing us to use billions of gallons, of corn ethanol and other land source energy. I know the National corn growers association will not let the corn ethanol mandate end with out a fight.But we need to make the best and wisest choices. Here is a good site, not supported by the oil or ethanol money, on the facts and fiction of ethanol and biofuels, at farmecon by Dr. Thomas E. Elam. The highly respected OECD said. "The rush to energy crops threatens to cause food shortages and damage to biodiversity with limited benefits … Government policies supporting and protecting domestic production of biofuels are inefficient [and] not cost effective … The current push to expand the use of biofuels is creating unsustainable tensions that will disrupt markets without generating significant environmental benefits … Governments should cease creating new mandates for biofuels and investigate ways to phase them out." - Richard Doornbosch and Ronald Steenblik, "Biofuels: Is the Cure Worse Than the Disease?" in Round Table on Sustainable Development (OECD, Sep 11-12, 2007).

  2. stan



    Here is a good site, not supported by the oil or ethanol money, on the real facts and fiction of ethanol. by Dr. Thomas E. Elam.

  3. Beth



    Where are the corn cobs in this multi feedstock technology? The low hanging fruit of the industry that is clean, never has to touch the ground. No rocks, no dirt, no trash, less silica.

  4. Beth



    By the way, we're already growing close to 90 million tons of sustainable biomass in the form of corn cobs annually in the US. Not the valuable part of the plant mind you, stover needs to stay in the field.

  5. Joanne Ivancic



    Here's another website--not supported by oil or ethanol money; all volunteer. A library of over 10,000 links to articles about biofuels, advanced biofuels and related bioproducts development and research. Included are original writings that establish that due to the octane value of ethanol, even without policy support, oil companies will choose to use this cost-effective additive. Independent interviews establish that E0 costs more than E10; from 15 cents to 80 cents more per gallon. Higher blends of ethanol may also enable production of more efficient engines that provide greater mileage than current hybrids. And we have no funding from the auto industry either. We would like to see the entire gallon "bio-ized" with advanced biofuels.

  6. TeequeAmorm



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