INEOS Bio produces cellulosic ethanol from waste, at commercial scale – print-friendly

August 1, 2013 |

Cash from Trash: The Heroes from Vero are making renewable fuel in commercial quantities from ag waste and MSW in South Florida.

The Digest speaks with INEOS Bio CEO Peter WIlliams and COO Mark Niederschulte about the world’s first  facility to convert waste to fuel and electricity.

In Florida, INEOS Bio announced that its Indian River BioEnergy Center at Vero Beach is now producing cellulosic ethanol at commercial scale. First ethanol shipments will be released in August. This is the first commercial-scale production in the world using INEOS Bio’s breakthrough gasification and fermentation technology for conversion of biomass waste into bioethanol and renewable power.

INEOS-Bio-Vero-Beach

The Center cost more than $130 million and created more than 400 direct construction, engineering and manufacturing jobs during its development. The project sourced more than 90% of the equipment from U.S. manufacturers, creating or retaining jobs in more than 10 states. The Center has 65 full- time employees and provides $4 million annually in payroll to the local community.

The BioEnergy Center is a joint venture project between INEOS Bio and NewPlanet Energy. The facility has already converted several types of waste biomass material into bioethanol, including vegetative and yard waste, and citrus, oak, pine, and pallet wood waste. The Center is also permitted to utilize municipal solid waste (MSW), quantities of which will be used for bioethanol production at the Center during 2014. It will have an annual output of eight million gallons (24kta) of cellulosic ethanol and six megawatts (gross) of renewable power.

The biofuels produced in Florida will anchor the new production of cellulosic ethanol under the U.S. Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). INEOS Bio is working with other companies and cities globally to use this technology as a new direction for waste disposal and the production of advanced biofuels and renewable power.

Reaction from INEOS

“We are delighted with the progress made by our team at Vero Beach”, said Peter Williams, CEO of INEOS Bio and Chairman of INEOS New Planet Bioenergy. “The bottom line is that we are happy to announce that we are making commercial quantities of ethanol at Vero Beach, from vegetative and wood waste, and at the same time exporting power to the local community. It’s a world first – the first time these feedstocks converted in that sort of way. We have established base camp, now we can move forward for plants beyond. We expect to spend the reminder of 2013 putting the plant through its paces, and demonstrating full nameplate capacity.”

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The next phase

The Center will serve as a reference plant for future INEOS Bio facilities and for companies and cities interested in licensing the technology for similar facilities. As the largest licensor of chemical process technology in the world, INEOS will leverage its extensive expertise to bring this technology forward as an exciting new alternative for sustainable waste disposal.

“The project pipeline is very interesting,” said Dr. Williams, “and in the next months, depending on confidentiality requirements, there could be further plant announcements, but looking at the time it takes to construct, it will be a a couple of years before the next wave of plants.”

Future plant capacity

“It depends on the location,” noted INEOS Bio COO Mark Niederschulte. “We use the lingo of 1X or 2X Vero. The average size is probably 2X Vero, although we have a couple of 3X Vero. That 1X, 2X style helps with bankability and financing. They can touch it and watch it work at VEro and say “for 16M gallons – I need four of those and two of those and a bigger one of those.

Feedstock trends?

“The mix of feedstocks will entirely depend on the location, Said Williams. “The system is designed to be agnostic, between wood waste, MSW and ag waste. What really is the trend is that you have to have economics, and then we see communities that are either looking to work on greenhouse gas emissions, or seeking a great solution to waste problems in communities.

The INEOS Bio New Planet Energy project in Vero Beach, FL (as of January 2012)

The INEOS Bio New Planet Energy project in Vero Beach, FL (as of January 2012)

Moving from Mechanical Completion to regular operations

The plant was mechanically complete in the first half of last year — and critics became vocal about shortcomings in the core technology when the plant did not complete its commissioning period more quickly.

As it turns out, the long commissioning period had little to do with the core technology — but rather, issues that come from being a new industrial plant in a non-industrial area.

“As we moved from mechanical completion to where we are today,” said Niederschulte, “we were surprised at extent to which we had to deal with non core technology issues. For example, there was Florida Power & Light, which had a number of power outages. As we got our power export system to cooperate, with the frequent storms, we experienced a number of issues caused by problems in the grid that backed into our plant and caused us to shut off the plant’s power. This system is designed to operate continuously, and it can be a painful restart that takes a couple of weeks.

“Another example,” Niederschulte told the Digest, “we designed the system to take landfill gas but there were problems with the landfill gas compressor at the Indian County landfill. We lost steam a couple of times and that shut down the turbine generator. It’s been a bit frustrating, because you don’t expect issues like that in commercializing new technology.

The fix? “As we’ve done a retrospective, we don’t want to learn the same lesson twice,” Niederschulte noted. “We’ve modified the design to deal with the issues we’ve seen in the interface between our facility and the outside. It works fantastically.

Moving towards full capacity

“With any plant, you turn it on, then start pushing it find out the bottlenecks,” Niederschulte said. “In this phase, we’ve got some not very expensive equipment to install – soon – probably September. Then we’ll see how those modifications lead us to another bottleneck, or it could be that that’s it. But we’re starting to see increased production, from better feedstock handling and processing, and improved overall operation. Until those mechanical changes are complete we’ll continue to see some constraints.”

Industry reaction

Brent Erickson, Executive Vice President of BIO’s Industrial & Environmental Section, said, “The production of commercial scale cellulosic biofuels is a very significant achievement and a direct result of American biotech innovation. INEOS Bio’s biorefinery is the first to prove a biotech process successful at commercial scale. It has already created hundreds of jobs and brought economic growth – as well as renewable electricity – to its Florida community. This shows the Renewable Fuel Standard is working, plain and simple.

“There are many additional projects scheduled to achieve commercial production over the next few years. The industry has already invested more than $5 billion over the past six years to commercialize the technology, and investors are ready to commit more, following the success of first-of-a-kind facilities. These projects have created several thousand jobs, and growth of the industry could create several hundred thousand more.

“The RFS has encouraged this investment and progress. Current efforts to destabilize the program are short-sighted and motivated solely by the oil refining industry’s desire to block competition and consumer choice at the pump. If Congress does what the oil refining industry is asking and repeals or revises the RFS at this critical juncture, it will strangle the advanced biofuels baby in the cradle. The INEOS announcement is just the first of many advanced biofuel announcements to come over the next few years. If there was ever a time when Congress needed to keep the RFS in place it is now, when the advanced biofuels industry is reaching these milestones. When oil refiners attack the RFS, they are attacking American ingenuity and innovation in order to keep their stranglehold on American fuel consumers.”

The Digest’s Take

It’s a massive step forward for the technology. We expect to see quite a number of 1X and 2X Veroesque plants dotting the globe in the second half of the decade.

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