The Old Switcheroo — the “now” of cellulosic biofuels vs “five years away” in oil & gas

December 20, 2012 |

As renewable fuel developers put steel in the ground, oil & gas points to a fossil-based transformation in transportation fuels just “five years away”.

The oil & gas and the renewable fuels industries find themselves in unfamiliar waters, as it happens. For years, renewable fuels developers have spoken in terms of the long-term promise, while the petroleum industry points to actual refining projects and steel in the ground.

Today, it is the oil & gas industry talking in terms of huge promise from new feedstocks, and new refineries that would require massive investment in capacity building and quite possibly a wholesale rethinking of fuel infrastructure. Take for example Sasol’s staggering new $19B GTL project  in Louisiana, expected to be ready by 2017.

Today, it is the renewable fuels movement that wigwagging furiously, pointing to project developers, a splash of new refining projects, and steel in the ground.

Take today as a case in point. It’s supposed to be a dead time for commercial news, as attention turns towards the holiday season.

But no less than four major announcements regarding advanced projects in renewable fuels and feedstocks came out. It’s been a year of dire headlines in government spending, renewable fuel mandates and so on, but maybe we’re seeing the old switcheroo — no mere candle at the end of the tunnel, but a bank of kleig lights normally reserved for splashy Hollywood premieres.

Four new projects in aviation fuels, road transport, and low-cost enzymes

Renewable diesel in the EU. The EU awarded UPM a grant of €170 million for a solid wood-based biorefinery (BTL) project in Strasbourg, France, out NER300 funds – using the same technology that will be used at the Lappeenranta biorefinery, a wood-based renewable diesel, constructed without any public funding, that will produce renewable diesel out of crude tall oil, a residue of pulp production. The process is based on hydrotreatment and production will start in summer 2014. The grant follows on from a €199M grant to a Dutch biorefinery project from BioMCN and its collaborators, announced late last week.

Neste to produce aviation biofuels. Also in the EU, Neste Oil has joined the Initiative Towards Sustainable Kerosene for Aviation (ITAKA) project, which is being funded by the EU to support the commercialization and use of renewable aviation fuel in Europe. Neste Oil’s role in the consortium will be to produce the renewable fuel used in the project. Neste Oil will produce a total of 4,000 tons of NExBTL renewable aviation fuel as part of the project, primarily from sustainably produced Spanish camelina oil, and possibly also used cooking oil.

New plant-based enzyme from Infinite. In the US, in Arkansas, Infinite Enzymes announced that its IE-CBHI single activity, plant-based cellulase enzyme, is now available for R&D projects. The Infinite Enzymes’ technology produces enzymes in a lower value part of the corn kernel thereby creating a new sustainable market for corn processing by-products. The technology lowers the cost of sugar production needed for developing low-cost biobased plastics and advanced biofuels.

New aviation biofuels project in Illinois. Meanwhile, Paradigm BioAviation announced that it plans to build a $120 Million facility in Bloomington-Normal designed to transform municipal solid waste into green electrical power and alternative liquid fuels for the transportation and aviation industries. Construction is slated to begin in 2014, after completing the zoning and EPA permitting process in 2013. Production of green power is scheduled to start in 2015.

Not enough? 16 more cellulosic biofuels projects happening in there here and now

If that news is not enough to fill the space beneath your biobased Christmas tree — consider taking a look at the Advanced Ethanol Council’s: Cellulosic Biofuels: Industry Progress Report 2012-2013. It provides one of the most attractively-designed, concise guides to progress on 16 projects around the world.

Projects include Abengoa, American Process, Beta Renewables, BlueFire, Clariant, Enerkem, Fiberight, Fulcrum, Inbicon, INEOS Bio, Iogen, KiOR, LanzaTech, Mascoma, POET-DSM, and ZeaChem. Unfortunatelly the report doesn’t cover projects outside of the SEC’s membership roster – so there’s no report on COFCO, DuPont, BP, BlueSugars/Petrobras, Solena, LS9, Amyris, Joule, Solazyme, or Sapphire Energy — to cite a few. But why quibble? It’s a valuable document well worth a read.

EXTENSION: UPM renewable diesel project in France lands €170M EU grant

EXTENSION: Infinite Enzymes launches Commercial Plant-Made Cellulase Enzyme Product

EXTENSION: Paradigm BioAviation announces $120M aviation biofuels project in Illinois

EXTENSION: Neste Oil to produce aviation biofuels

EXTENSION: Cellulosic Biofuels – the plants, the projects, the progress: new AEC report


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