IEA says cellulosic biofuels capacity has tripled since 2010: new Task 39 global report

April 5, 2013 |

Task39-logoThe IEA Task 39 group publishes its latest report on advanced biofuels — how is the global industry progressing?

The International Energy Agency, through its Task 39 group, has published its 207-page report on the “Status of Advanced Biofuels Demonstration Facilities in 2012”.

The report, in its pages, contains detailed project summaries as well as summary tables that track the company, location, company, feedstocks, products, capacity, project type (e.g. pilot, demo, commercial) and status (operational, closed or planned).

Where is the full report – and does it cost?

It’s free. You can download it here

Or via Biofuels Digest SuperData (free to all registered Digest subscribers)

Where’s that online, interactive project map — that allows users to focus in by project status, project size or technology?

Task39-mapThat’s here.

It sounds like a group of secret agents. What is Task 39, again?

Task 39 is a group of international experts working to commercialize sustainable transportation biofuels. Bioenergy and biofuels are important components within a country’s green energy portfolio. While there are numerous renewable energy options for heat and electricity generation, biofuels are currently the only means of displacing liquid fossil fuels such as gasoline, diesel, and aviation fuels.

When was the last report?


What are the big changes?


Since the previous edition of this report (2010):

1. Hydrotreatment as pursued by e.g. Neste Oil has been commercialized and currently accounts for approximately 2.4% of biofuels production worldwide.

2. Fermentation of lignocellulosic raw material to ethanol has also seen a strong development and several large scale facilities are just coming online in Europe and North America.

3. As for thermochemical processes, the development is recently focusing on the production of mixed alcohols rather than BtL-Diesel. Economic reasons are driving this development, and concepts like the integration into existing industries and the production of several products instead of biofuel only (biorefinery concept) receive more attention lately.

4. Task 39 reports, “As expected, some of the projects for advanced biofuel production have failed. As a result, companies are now more careful in making announcements of advanced biofuels projects, and several large-scale projects have been postponed recently, some even though public funding would have been granted.

What is the overall production capacity in the report?


The Task 39 group reports that production capacity for biofuels from lignocellulosic feedstock has tripled since 2010 and currently accounts for some 140 000 tons per year. Hydrotreating capacity for biofuels has multiplied and stands at about 2 190 000 tons per year.

The 3 main pathways

Main pathways under development can be classified into biochemical technologies, thermochemical technologies and chemical technologies.

Biochemical technologies are usually based on lignocellulosic feedstock which is pretreated, hydrolysed into sugars and then fermented to ethanol. Alternative biochemical pathways process sugars or gaseous components into methanol, butanol, mixed alcohols, acetic acids, or other chemical building blocks.


Most thermochemical technologies use gasification to convert lignocellulosic feedstock into synthesis gas, which can be converted into BtL-Diesel, SNG, DME or mixed alcohols. Alternative thermochemical pathways include pyrolysis of biomass and upgrading of the resulting pyrolysis oil.


The most successful chemical pathway is the hydrotreatment of vegetable oil or fats to produce diesel-type hydrocarbons. Other pathways include catalytic decarboxylation, and methanol production from glycerin.

Who’s in the lead – biochemical, thermochemical or chemical?

According to Task 39, “Biochemical technologies are clearly dominating over thermochemical technologies. Of the 71 projects for which data was provided, 43 were classified to use a biochemical pathway, 20 use a thermochemical pathway, and 7 use a chemical pathway. One pilot plant is flexible and allows for both biochemical or thermochemical pathway; this project is counted half towards each of these technologies.

Project status as discussed in the report

By end of 2012 the status of 48 projects is operational, 9 projects are under construction or under commissioning, and 14 projects are planned.

Project failures

Two large thermochemical projects have recently failed for economic reasons: CHORENs FT-liquids beta plant in Freiberg, Germany, with a capacity of 15 000 t/y went bankrupt while under commissioning; Range Fuels´ plant in Soperton, USA, with a capacity of 300 000 t/y of ethanol production, stopped operation shortly after its start up for economic reasons. BP Biofuels had earlier announced a large biochemical cellulosic ethanol plant for Florida, but abandoned pursuing this in 2012.

Facilities under construction

The largest facilities under construction for cellulosic ethanol production include Abengoa´s facility in Hugoton, USA (75 000 t/y), POET-DSM´s facility in Emmetsburg, USA, (75 000 t/y), Beta Renewables´ facility in Crescentino, Italy, (40 000 t/y) and INEOS Bio´s Vero Beach facility (24 000 t/y). Thermochemical facilities under construction include Enerkem´s facility in Edmonton, Canada (30 000 t/y of ethanol) and Göteborg Energi´s facility in Göteborg, Sweden (11 200 t/y SNG).

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