The Hot Zone

June 11, 2012 |

Thermocatalytic biofuels projects are Going South – here’s who and why

In US bioenergy as a whole, most of the attention has deservedly gone to the Midwestern states – by and large, that’s where the corn and soybean production calls home.

Efforts to diversify the production of first generation biodiesel have been able to stretch, to some extent, to a broader national production based on the availability of waste oils or canola; but ethanol production has struggled to establish itself far outside its natural Prairie and Great Plains state base.

With the coming of advanced bioprocessing, the picture of opportunity has radically changed and the Southeast, Northwest, and Southwest, in particular, have been assessing their opportunities and attracting projects.

Monsters of the Midway

Now, the Midwest has substantial advanced bioprocessing opportunity, as well – to date, its been, by and large, the home of enzymatic hydrolysis technologies aiming to liberate fermentable sugars from corn stover, and thereby greatly increase the capacity of the first generation ethanol fleet through cellulosic bolt-ons, and some greenfield projects too. Also, Gevo and Butamax have been hard at work with a goal of converting first-gen corn starch ethanol to isobutanol production.

Generally, in the Southwest, progress has been focused on microbial advanced fermentation technologies – algae-based biofuels from the likes of Sapphire Energy and Heliae, and the modified cyanobacteria of Joule, making drop-in fuels from CO2, water and sunlight. In the Northwest, progress has been focused on the hybrid gasification-fermentation technology of ZeaChem, to date.

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