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12 Bellwether Biofuels Projects for 2013

| January 1, 2013

divining-rodA long war of opinion has been waged for years between advanced biofuels’ detractors and supporters.

Mirage or reality? Completion of 6 key projects 2012 decided much of the debate.

When these 12 projects open for business (or not) in 2013, you’ll know for sure.

Advanced, next-generation biofuels are on the march, say the supporters. Next-generation biofuels are a debacle, according to a chorus of skeptics including the editorial page writers of the Wall Street Journal.

Who’s right? We learned a lot in 2012, when 6 of 7 bellwether projects were completed on time – from KiOR, DSM, Beta Renewables, Solazyme, Gevo and INEOS Bio. Several remain in the commissioning process, and new technology to improve at-scale yields is due from Gevo.

We wrote in 2012: “If, by this time next year, we have all of these projects completed and in operation, it will go a long way towards substantiating the claims that the bio-based industrials are making, about their ability to transform the way in which products are made, while being financially viable at the same time.

Should a number of them fail to operate as advertised, or run into costly delays that challenge a project’s financial viability, that will go a long ways towards substantiating the POV of the Journal that the bio-based industry is, indeed, loaded with debacles.
The bottom line? The industry, by and large, had a banner year. But a few stumbles on timing and ramp-up, notably Gevo and Enerkem, have us looking in 2013 for even more definitive answers.

12 bellwether projects to watch in 2012

End of the commissioning period for KiOR, INEOS Bio and Gevo – out of the class of 2012. The US’s largest drop-in fuels project. Projects in China, Brazil, and the US, ranging from sub-1 million gallons up to 137 million gallons per year.

From cellulosic ethanol to drop-in fuels

The largest renewable diesel project in the US. The largest waste-to-ethanol project. The largest biobutanol project. The largest drop-in biofuels project, and the largest pyrolysis-based biofuels project. All at commercial-scale. The largest consolidated bioprocessing project. The largest acid hydrolysis project. The first cellulosic ethanol commercial-scale projects in China and Brazil. The first project to ferment industrial off-gases into fuels.

What exactly, by the way, is commercial-scale?

Commercial-scale is the scale at which a project provides a commercially-viable payback to its investors, and is economically sustainable. In short, a project big enough to make money, not just headlines.


Diamond Green Diesel, first commercial plant, Norco, Louisiana

According to the project’s sponsors, the facility will be capable of producing over 9,300 barrels per day or 137 million gallons per year of renewable diesel on a site adjacent to Valero’s St. Charles refinery near Norco, Louisiana.  The facility will convert grease, primarily animal fats and used cooking oil supplied by Darling, and potentially other feedstocks that become economically and commercially viable, into renewable diesel. Completion of the facility is anticipated just as 2013 gets underway.

INEOS Bio, first commercial, Vero Beach, FL

Construction was completed in April 2012 – by the end of Q1, we are expecting the project to reach full operation and produce ethanol.  The plant will use a combination of gasification and fermentation technologies, to turn different types of waste materials, including municipal solid waste, into advanced biofuels and renewable power, producing 8 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol under the new Renewable Fuel Standard and provide power for 1400 homes in the area.

American Process, AVAP Demonstration Plant, Thomaston, GA

Startup is expected in Q1 on a demonstration project that will handle up to 10 tons per day of biomass, and producing up to 300,000 gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol.

AVAP (American Value Added Pulping) co-produces pulp and ethanol from biomass in an integrated biorefinery application. Biomass is converted to sugars using a two step proprietary process. In the first step biomass is quickly broken-down into its three major components: cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin. In the second step, hemicellulose is hydrolyzed to sugars using heat and cellulose is hydrolyzed to sugars using enzymes. Lignin is removed and burned to produce the energy required to run the process.


KiOR, first commercial drop-in fuels project, Columbus, MS

KiOR completed construction of its first commercial scale facility, located in Columbus, Mississippi, in Q3 2012.  The approximately $190 million facility is expected to create several hundred direct, indirect, and induced jobs during operation, and over 500 jobs on site during peak construction — and is expected to complete the commissioning process by Q2.

Gevo, first commercial isobutanol project, Luverne, Minnesota

Gevo completed retrofit of its ethanol facility in Luverne, Minnesota, to produce biobased isobutanol in 2012 – then, returned to ethanol production in order to optimize the biobutanol production technology. The new technology is expected to be in place with a return to biobutanol production by the end of Q2.

Gevo’s integrated fermentation technology (platform consists of two components: a yeast biocatalyst and a separations technology unit that bolts into existing ethanol plants. Isobutanol can be used directly as a solvent and converted to isobutylene, the raw material for plastics and fibers. Gevo believes its isobutanol will provide a route to the renewable production of rubber, polypropylene, polystyrene, and PET. Isobutanol can also be used directly as a gasoline blendstock.

Bluefire Renewables – first commercial plant – Fulton, MS

Construction is expected to commence on the Fulton, MS first commercial cellulosic ethanol project. Back in 2011, BlueFire entered into a MOU with China Huadian Engineering Co LTD to finance its integrated Power Plant and Biorefinery in Fulton, MS and up to 5 additional plants in the United States. Under the MOU, Huadian will invest equity by purchasing an interest in the BlueFire Fulton Renewable Energy LLC and, optionally, debt for the Fulton project to complete financing and construction for this cellulosic ethanol facility.


Mascoma – first commercial cellulosic ethanol project – Kinross, MI

Construction of a 20 million gallon first commercial project is expected by early in Q3. Last year, the company wrote, “We anticipate construction of this facility to start in 3 to 6 months and we expect the facility to begin operations in mid-2014. Based on current cost estimates, we believe this facility will be fully financed by Valero in addition to grants and awards from the DOE and the State of Michigan.”

The technology developed by Mascoma Corporation uses yeast and bacteria that are engineered to produce large quantities of the enzymes necessary to break down the cellulose and ferment the resulting sugars into ethanol. Combining these two steps (enzymatic digestion and fermentation) significantly reduces costs by eliminating the need for enzyme produced in a separate refinery. This process, called Consolidated Bioprocessing or “CBP”, will ultimately enable the conversion of the solar energy contained in plants to ethanol in just a few days.


Abengoa Biorefinery, first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant – Hugoton, KS

Construction is expected to be completed by the end of 2013 with some ethanol production starting the same year, though ramp up will be in 2014.

In October, Abengoa CEO Manuel Sanchez Ortega, said; “Abengoa believes that the advanced biofuel industry offers positive opportunities for investment and we are now approximately 1 year into construction of a commercial scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Hugoton, Kansas. This commercial scale facility is on schedule to be completed and to begin commercial production near the end of 2013. Abengoa is committed to the advancement of renewable fuel as a path to securing a clean energy future for all.”

Graalbio commercial cellulosic ethanol plant, Brazil

Last spring, GraalBio Investimentos announces plans to invest $724.5 million in five cellulosic ethanol plants during the next few years. The first 21.6 million gallon facility in Alagoas that will use sugarcane bagasse as feedstock is expected to come online in December 2013. The first plant will produce cellulosic ethanol from sugarcane bagasse and straw, and Novozymes will supply the necessary enzyme technology while Beta Renewables and Chemtex, both part of Italian chemical group Mossi & Ghisolfi (M&G), will provide other process technologies and engineering.

POET-DSM Project Liberty, Emmetsburg, IA

In October, POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels said that Project LIBERTY construction is scheduled to be complete in late 2013, and this fall farmers are increasing the amount of biomass delivered to the site in an effort to fine-tune storage efforts and get farmers used to the biomass collection process.  POET-DSM officials confirmed that the plant will hit its goal of collecting about 85,000 tons of corn cobs and light stover in this harvest season. Project LIBERTY is expected to produce 20 million gallons per year of cellulosic bio-ethanol, growing to about 25 million gallons per year.

LanzaTech, first commercial, (with Baosteel), Shanghai, China

A full scale commercial facility with Baosteel is planned for 2013 – and LanzaTech is currently commissioning a second pre-commercial facility, also in China, based on a JV with China’s Shougang Group, aimed also to follow with a commercial production facility in 2013.

COFCO/Sinopec first commercial cellulosic ethanol – Zhaodong, China

In fall 2011, groundbreaking took place at the COFCO cellulosic ethanol production line in Zhaodong, which will have a capacity of 50,000 metric tons per year, and confirmed a launch in 2013. COFCO invested $156.7 million in the production line of cellulosic ethanol with capacity of 100,000 tons per year. The project expands upon the pilot it has been running since 2007 that produces 500 tons per year. The production cost has come down to $956 per ton from $3,134 per ton in 2006 thanks to Celic CTec2, a new product of Novozymes, can not only shorten the fermentation time, but also reduce the outcome of byproducts.

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