Cleaner, more sustainable, more climate-friendly, more affordable advanced biofuels are closer to reality than many outside the industry seem to think. At least three new, advanced biofuel biorefineries are being commissioned this year, and at least four others will have shovels in the ground soon. The question is whether all of the talk of EPA waiving the Renewable Fuel Standard will spook the investors needed to build the next generation of biorefineries that will not use corn starch.
Here is a brief summary of just some of the recent developments:
On August 10, Biofuels Digest reported: "INEOS Bio announced that its joint venture project in Florida has been granted Parts 79 and 80 registrations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the production and sale of advanced cellulosic biofuels from non-food vegetative waste materials. Construction on the Indian River BioEnergy Center was completed in June and the facility is currently undergoing commissioning. The Center is scheduled to begin production in the 3rd Quarter of this year. " The plant will produce eight million gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol and six megawatts of renewable biomass power. In 2011, the USDA provided INEOS with a $75 million loan guarantee to assist in financing the project.
On July 24, Biomass Magazine reported that the EPA had granted KiOR Inc. the necessary permit to begin selling its renewable cellulosic gasoline. KiOR is in the process of commissioning its first biorefinery, located in Mississippi, which will produce cellulosic biofuel from locally grown woody biomass. According to Biofuels Digest, "Production this year is expected to be in the 800,000 gallon range as plant #1 commissions, rising to 10.2 million gallons in 2013, and rapidly scaling up to 273 million gallons by 2016."
On July 3, Domestic Fuel.Com reported that Solazyme has begun commissioning its first fully integrated biorefinery in Illinois to produce oil from algae. According to the company’s web site, the facility "was partially funded with a federal grant that Solazyme received from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in December 2009 to demonstrate integrated commercial-scale production of renewable algal-based fuels. The demonstration/commercial-scale plant will have a nameplate capacity of two million liters of oil annually and will provide an important platform for continued work on feedstock flexibility and scaling of new tailored oils into the marketplace."
Earlier this year, Sustainable Business Oregon reported that ZeaChem had started commissioning its demonstration scale plant in Oregon and that the company had received conditional approval for a loan guarantee from the USDA for $232 million to help finance the construction of its commercial scale plant. The plant will use short rotation woody biomass crops and agricultural residues for feedstock. "While the demonstration plant has a capacity of 250,000 gallons per year and will employ 25 people when it's fully operational, the commercial plant would have the capacity of 25 million gallons per year and would employ a full-time staff of 65 people."
On August 22, the USDA announced a loan guarantee, under the 2008 Farm Bill Biorefinery Assistance Program, for Chemtex International to construct a 20 million gallon per year cellulosic ethanol plant in North Carolina. The plant will use locally produced perennial energy crops, such as switchgrass and Miscanthus, which will be established and grown on marginally productive lands nearby. The loan guarantee is for $99 million and covers 80 percent of the cost. Earlier this year, the USDA announced the award of up to $3.9 million for the establishment of perennial energy crops in the project area under the provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill Biomass Crop Assistance Program.
On August 6, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that "Fulcrum BioEnergy Inc. (FLCM). . . received a $105 million conditional U.S. loan guarantee for its first commercial facility. Fulcrum’s Sierra BioFuels Plant will be 20 miles (32 kilometers) east of Reno, Nevada, and may produce as much as 10 million gallons (38 million liters) of ethanol a year from household garbage, according to a statement today." The USDA loan guarantee was extended under the provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill Biorefinery Assistance Program.
On July 18, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that BP is planning to begin construction of a cellulosic ethanol biorefinery in Florida. Perennial energy grasses are being planted now to supply a 36 million gallon per year plant which is scheduled to begin production in 2014.
Readers will note that none of these plants will use corn as a feedstock and that only one is even located in the corn belt.