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Exciting news in the cellulosic world

The grand opening of a cellulosic ethanol plant like Project Liberty is exciting stuff because the second generation industry is still so new. Here’s what’s happening with some other commercial-scale advanced biofuel projects.
By Holly Jessen | September 15, 2014

Poet-DSM’s Sept. 3 grand opening of Project Liberty was a big deal for the company and the industry as a whole. BBI International sent Anna Simet, managing editor of Biomass Magazine, and Tim Portz, vice president of content. They live in Minneapolis so it was easier for them to get there. I stayed at the office and watched the event from the live stream video.

One of the things that really caught my attention was comments made by Feike Sijbesma, Royal DSM’s CEO and board chairman, about entering the biorenewable age. We didn’t leave the Stone Age, he said, because we ran out of stones. As I listened I realized, it makes a lot of sense that we shouldn’t only aim to put the fossil fuel age behind us just because we will, at some point, run out of fossil fuel. We currently live in a linear economy, he said, where we take, make and dispose of resources. Project Liberty is a step toward a circular economy, where there is no such thing as waste because it is used as an input for new products.

It made me think of the other cellulosic ethanol projects which are close to completing construction or in another advanced stage of project development. So I decided to check in with a handful of companies for a quick update.

Beta Renewables, a nearly 20 MMgy cellulosic ethanol plant in Crescentino, Italy, has been in operation for a year now. “Beta’s own commercial plant, in operation since 2013, was the first plant in the world for the industrial production of second-generation bioethanol and is now running at a steady state,” said Guido Ghisolfi, president and CEO of Beta Renewables and managing director of parent company, Mossi Ghisolfi Group, in a press release congratulating Poet-DSM. “We have started the process of exploiting learning curves, reducing production costs and increasing operational efficiencies for the benefit of our customers and we are excited to have paved the way for others in this important industry.”

The Indian River BioEnergy Center, a project of Ineos New Planet BioEnergy LLC, came online producing ethanol a year ago. However, the company recently revealed that impurities produced in a process stream was negatively impacting operations. Read more about how the company is working to solve that problem. As has been said many times before, an entirely new industry isn’t built up either quickly or without some bumps in the road. We wish Inoes Bio success as they tweak their process.

Looking at U.S. cellulosic ethanol plants, Abengoa is the next on the list to hold a grand opening for its 25 MMgy cereal straw-to-cellulosic ethanol plant. The company has chosen Oct. 17 for that event and you can bet someone from BBI International will be on hand to help celebrate. The facility will utilize biomass residues to produce process steam and 20 megawatts of electricity, making it self-sufficient.  The company expects production to begin this month.

Construction on DuPont’s 30 MMgy Nevada, Iowa, cellulosic ethanol facility is scheduled to wrap up by the end of the year with ethanol production by the end of the year as well, the company told me. At the International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo in June, I met with Jan Koninckx, the head of DuPont’s biofuels business, who told me some exciting things about the company’s $200 million corn stover-to-cellulosic ethanol facility. The grand opening celebration of that facility is another one I’m sure we at Ethanol Producer will be attending, if at all possible.

Then there’s Enerkem’s 10 MMgy biofuel and renewable chemical plant in Edmonton, Alberta. The company inaugurated the facility on June 4 and is currently preparing for full start-up of methanol production, with installation of the cellulosic ethanol module in 2015, Marie-Helene Labrie, vice president of government affairs and communications for Enerkem, told me in an email.  

It’s an exciting time for these and other companies working toward commercial scale production of advanced biofuels. We at EPM are happy to be able to report on so many positive steps toward a thriving second generation industry!