Raizen, Iogen commence cellulosic ethanol production in Brazil

December 17, 2014 |

iogen1 billion liters by 2024, vows Raizen. Record speed on start-up. What’s the story on the ground? The Digest investigates.

In Brazil, Iogen and Raízen announced they have begun production of cellulosic ethanol on schedule at Raízen`s newly expanded Costa Pinto sugar cane mill in Piracicaba, São Paulo, Brazil.

Raizen_logoRaízen broke ground on the $US100 million “biomass-to-ethanol” expansion just over one year ago. The new facility will convert biomass such as sugar cane bagasse and straw into 40 million litres per year of advanced, second generation cellulosic biofuel. It will also be the first large-scale commercial implementation of Iogen Energy’s cellulosic ethanol technology, which the company developed and has extensively proven in its Ottawa demonstration facility.

From the Front Lines

“We finished construction on schedule, and said we expected a Q4 startup, and we’re on time,” said Ziyad Rahme, SVP and General Manager for Iogen Energy. “We’ve had a short one-month ramp up, and started production and are making ethanol. Raizen right now have made 200,000 liters available and are selling cellulosic ethanol in Brazil. That’s also very exciting.”

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How did it go, seen on the ground?

“The start up went very well,” Rahme said. “There are always the first of kind things. But our strategy was to focus on validating the technology – all with the express goal of having quick start up.. So we’re running in continuous mode right now as we speak.”

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The ramp up to full production

“We’re getting very near the end of the harvest season,” said Rahme. “We’ll probably have one or two more weeks of run time, and then we’ll shut down as the harfvest comes to an end. That will wrap up the shakedown period – with a resumption in April or May of next year, when we ramp to full capacity.

Any shortfalls on rate or yield?

We are not hitting any significant hurdles, so far on the rate or yield side. What we are seeing is as per expectation, the pretreatment, hydrolysis and fermentation are all working as expected. Having said that there is always continuous improvement and fine tuning the process.”

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Reaction from the partners

“Biofuel production at this facility represents the next step in our partnership with Iogen,” says João Alberto Abreu, agroindustrial director from Raízen. “We believe Iogen Energy has the most robust, well proven, and competitive technology platform in the cellulosic ethanol business. We see tremendous potential for this to meet the world’s growing demand for cleaner and more sustainable fuels, and we anticipate a long and profitable future.”

“We are very excited to have been able to make this start-up a success” says Brian Foody CEO of Iogen Corporation. “We have a great team of engineers, scientists and operators who’ve been working tirelessly with Raízen’s own excellent team. It has been a great partnership and we’re very pleased to be collaborating with a major ethanol industry player and committed partner like Raízen. Large scale commercialization in Brazil will open the door for global deployment of our technology.”

“Continuous commercial production will commence with the upcoming 2015 harvest season,” says Pedro Mizutani, Raízen’s Executive Vice President. Raízen has already announced that, given a success at Costa Pinto, it intends to deploy Iogen Energy`s technology in seven more Raízen sugar cane mills. “We plan to be producing up to 1 billion liters of cellulosic biofuel from bagasse and cane straw by 2024,” says Mizutani.

The Raizen ambition

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In June 2012, Raizen announced that it would invest $7 billion in a program to reach 100 billion tonnes in cane crushing capacity, a 50 percent increase over current capacity. At the time, Raizen exec VP Pedro Mizutani said that the company, which now has 10 percent of the cane crushing capacity in Brazil, would increase production by 5 million tonnes at its current plants, and achieve the remainder of growth through new project, as well as acquisitions.

Raízen`s initial commitment to Iogen came in July 2012, after Raízen concluded that Iogen Energy had the most advanced cellulosic biofuels technology, ideally suited for building co-located commercial plants at Raízen’s sugar cane ethanol facilities.

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“The technology being deployed has undergone extensive testing and validation work,” says Foody. “We have ten years of demonstration scale operating experience, and by operating over 6 months with Brazilian bagasse, we were able to troubleshoot problems, collect information, and adapt designs for reliable low-cost operation in Brazil.”

Iogen’s pivot to bagasse

Iogen’s switch in focus from Canada to Brazil for its first commercial project was a major news story in the past two years.

The rationale for bagasse can be summed up quickly: Raízen has a lot of it, and it is already aggregated and brought into the plant as part of the process for extracting cane juice from the cane. In other words, whether you are making sugar or ethanol, you have already paid to bring the bagasse into the plant.
But there’s cane straw to be considered, too. In traditional manual harvesting, the cane trash is burned in the fields. With the decision by the Brazilian government to require mechanized harvest by 2017, there’s been the question of what to do with all the straw.

How much? As a rough guide — and referring to dry tonnes — a cane field produces one third sugar, one third bagasse and one third tops and cane trash. Using that rough math, a 125 million (dry) tonne annual Brazilian cane harvest produces around 62 million tonnes each of bagasse and tops/cane trash. At 80-100 gallons per tonne, there’s enough biomass in Brazil’s current cane capacity (if all of it was used) for 10-12.5 billion gallons of ethanol, or 37-47 billion liters.

We put the practical figure at more like 40 percent of that – leaving the remainder to be used as biomass in the field for nutrient purposes, or burned for power generation.

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The R8 and R9 technology

In many ways, the key decisions were taken in 2010, when Shell “announced a further investment in Iogen Energy, for the purpose of accelerating the commercial deployment of Iogen Energy’s process for making cellulosic ethanol from agricultural residue. As part of the ongoing joint development agreement between Shell, Iogen Corporation and Iogen Energy, Shell made a significant incremental commitment to fund research and development activities at Iogen Energy until mid-2012.”

At the time Iogen was using its R7 technology – the purpose of the new funding was to develop and demonstrate the R8 and R9 technology releases that were aimed at significantly reducing the capital and operating costs per gallon of cellulosic ethanol.

Indeed, this project checks in at $10 in capex per gallon — almost exactly the same capital cost that originally went into the 1 million gallon

Iogen’s long, long journey

The roots of the technology date all the way back to 1975, when Patrick Foody Sr. initiated work on a “steam explosion” process to improve cellulose digestibility for use as animal feed

1978 – US DOE contracts to investigate the performance of steam explosion for energy production. The process is found to deliver superior results compared with the prior state of the art pretreatments.
1980 – The company initiates research on enzymes and biotechnology.
1982 – The company builds an integrated 1 tonne per day cellulosic ethanol pilot plant, using wood as a feedstock.
1990 – Iogen enters the commercial enzymes business, focusing on producing enzymes that digest natural fiber.  In 2013, Iogen sold its commercial enzyme business to Novozymes.
1991 – Iogen forms an alliance with Amoco for the development of cellulosic technology, ending in 1995 when Amoco terminated alternative fuels development.
1999 – With $15.8 million investment from Petro Canada and $10 million from Technology Partnerships Canada, Iogen initiates construction of the world’s first demonstration-scale plant.
2002 – After a worldwide search for leading technology, Shell makes an initial commitment of $46 million to invest in developing Iogen cellulosic biofuel technology.
2004 – Iogen initiates commercial sale of cellulosic ethanol from its demonstration plant. Over the following years, Iogen invests in several rounds of demonstration plant upgrades, solving production scale-up issues.
2006 – Goldman Sachs invests $40 million in Iogen.
2007 – Volkswagen invests $10 million in Iogen, and studies the German potential.
2010 – Shell and Cosan announce the intent to form a Brazilian joint venture, and Shell transfers its holdings in Iogen Energy to Raízen.
2012 – Shell announces termination of its pursuit of a cellulosic ethanol project in Canada. 
2013 – Raízen begins construction.
2014 – Completion of construction  and start-up of ethanol productioniogen in Q4.

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