12 Bellwether Biofuels Projects – where do they stand?

July 22, 2013 |

12-bellwetherAdvanced biofuels – mirage or reality? In January we wrote: “When these 12 projects open for business (or not) in 2013, you’ll know for sure.”

So, what do we know?

Advanced, next-generation biofuels are on the march, say the supporters. Next-generation biofuels are a debacle, according to a chorus of skeptics including the editorial page writers of the Wall Street Journal.

We wrote in 2012: “If, by this time next year, we have all of these projects completed and in operation, it will go a long way towards substantiating the claims that the bio-based industrials are making, about their ability to transform the way in which products are made, while being financially viable at the same time. Should a number of them fail to operate as advertised, or run into costly delays that challenge a project’s financial viability, that will go a long ways towards substantiating the POV of the Journal that the bio-based industry is, indeed, loaded with debacles.”

We identified 12 “Bellwether projects” in January that were scheduled to open in 2013.  including the largest waste-to-ethanol project. The largest biobutanol project. The largest drop-in biofuels project, and the largest pyrolysis-based biofuels project.  The largest consolidated bioprocessing project. The largest acid hydrolysis project. The first cellulosic ethanol commercial-scale projects in China and Brazil. The first project to ferment industrial off-gases into fuels.

How are they faring?


Diamond Green Diesel, first commercial plant, Norco, Louisiana


In January: According to the project’s sponsors, the facility will be capable of producing over 9,300 barrels per day or 137 million gallons per year of renewable diesel on a site adjacent to Valero’s St. Charles refinery near Norco, Louisiana.  The facility will convert grease, primarily animal fats and used cooking oil supplied by Darling, and potentially other feedstocks that become economically and commercially viable, into renewable diesel. Completion of the facility is anticipated just as 2013 gets underway.

Status: Earlier this month, Darling International announced that Diamond Green Diesel, the joint venture between Valero subsidiary Diamond Alternative Energy LLC and Darling International , has reached mechanical completion and the startup process will lead to full production of renewable diesel.

Once in full operations, the 9,300 barrel-per-day (142.5 million gallon) plant in Norco, Louisiana will process recycled animal fat and used cooking oil as well as corn oil into renewable diesel fuel that has comparable properties to petroleum-based diesel. The renewable diesel can be shipped by pipeline and meets low-carbon fuel standards.


INEOS Bio, first commercial, Vero Beach, FL


In January: Construction was completed in June 2012 – by the end of Q1, we were expecting the project to reach full operation and produce ethanol.  The plant will use a combination of gasification and fermentation technologies, to turn different types of waste materials, including municipal solid waste, into advanced biofuels and renewable power, producing 8 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol under the new Renewable Fuel Standard and provide power for 1400 homes in the area.

Status: Last November, the project was commissioned and began producing power at its BioEnergy Center. The renewable electricity powers the Center and the excess electricity is expected to power as many as 1400 homes in the Vero Beach community.  But final startup of first commercial facility and full-scale production has shifted into 2013 and we have not heard any news yet regarding the plant moving into regular production, though two weeks ago the plant was described as “currently commissioning and expected to reach full production in a few months.”


American Process, AVAP Demonstration Plant, Thomaston, GA

american-processIn January: Startup was expected in Q1 on a demonstration project that will handle up to 10 tons per day of biomass, and producing up to 300,000 gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol.

AVAP (American Value Added Pulping) co-produces pulp and ethanol from biomass in an integrated biorefinery application. Biomass is converted to sugars using a two step proprietary process. In the first step biomass is quickly broken-down into its three major components: cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin. In the second step, hemicellulose is hydrolyzed to sugars using heat and cellulose is hydrolyzed to sugars using enzymes. Lignin is removed and burned to produce the energy required to run the process.

Status: Online as of May.  Last month, API president Basil Karempelas told Ethanol Producer, “Our plan for both Thomaston and Alpena for the remainder of 2013 is to really perfect and optimize the two technologies at the demo facilities.

In April, at the Advanced Biofuels Leadership Conference (ABLC 2013), GranBio completed the acquisition of a 25% equity stake in American Process. Under the agreement, GranBio said it will have gained access to a proprietary biomass pretreatment platform that makes it possible to cost-effectively develop cellulosic sugars as a feedstock to a range of biochemicals and biofuels. The companies said that they expect to break ground on their first commercial-scale facility by the end of 2014. The companies will collaborate on a first commercial facility with API technology in Brazil, followed by one in the United States.


KiOR, first commercial drop-in fuels project, Columbus, MS


In January: KiOR completed construction of its first commercial scale facility, located in Columbus, Mississippi, in Q3 2012.  The approximately $190 million facility is expected to create several hundred direct, indirect, and induced jobs during operation, and over 500 jobs on site during peak construction — and is expected to complete the commissioning process by Q2.

Status: In mid-March we updated: “KiOR announced the initial shipments of cellulosic diesel from its first commercial-scale facility in Columbus, Mississippi. Although the company did not specify the customer for the fuels, KiOR and Catchlight Energy (a JV owned by Chevron and Weyerhaeuser) signed a conditional offtake agreement in May 2011 for Catchlight Energy to purchase gasoline and diesel fuel blendstocks from the Columbus, MS plant. In March 2011, KiOR announced a similar agreement with Hunt Refining Company.”

In May, KiOR CEO Fred Cannon added: “Building on the first gallons of cellulosic diesel we shipped in March, we continue to make progress with operations at our Columbus facility,” said KiOR CEO Fred Cannon. “The on-stream percentage of our core technology in the first quarter improved approximately 500 percent over the fourth quarter. Most of our individual run times are longer than the previous runs, and we are working toward taking the facility into a steady state of operations.”

“Most significantly,” Cannon continued, “our core technology is continuing to operate as designed, and the facility is producing high quality oil and cellulosic fuel. With these positive trends, we expect that our fuel shipments will increase and become more frequent.”


Gevo, first commercial isobutanol project, Luverne, Minnesota


In January: Gevo completed retrofit of its ethanol facility in Luverne, Minnesota, to produce biobased isobutanol in 2012 – then, returned to ethanol production in order to optimize the biobutanol production technology. The new technology is expected to be in place with a return to biobutanol production by the end of Q2.

Gevo’s integrated fermentation technology (platform consists of two components: a yeast biocatalyst and a separations technology unit that bolts into existing ethanol plants. Isobutanol can be used directly as a solvent and converted to isobutylene, the raw material for plastics and fibers. Gevo believes its isobutanol will provide a route to the renewable production of rubber, polypropylene, polystyrene, and PET. Isobutanol can also be used directly as a gasoline blendstock.

Status: In Colorado, Gevo announced that it has resumed commercial production of isobutanol at its Luverne, Minn. plant in single train mode, successfully utilizing its proprietary Gevo Integrated Fermentation Technology (GIFT).

“I am pleased to report that we have been successful in operating our full scale fermentation and our GIFT separation system that separates the isobutanol from the fermentation broth. This serves to further validate our technology as we had not previously run the GIFT system at full scale. I can now say that it runs beautifully,” noted Gevo CEO Patrick Gruber.

“We plan to be producing isobutanol and operating throughout the rest of this year, bringing all of our fermenters and GIFT systems online in the third and fourth quarters, testing run rates, then ramping up production and sales in 2013 and 2014,” Gruber added.


Bluefire Renewables – first commercial plant – Fulton, MS


In January: Construction was expected to commence on the Fulton, MS first commercial cellulosic ethanol project. Back in 2011, BlueFire entered into a MOU with China Huadian Engineering Co LTD to finance its integrated Power Plant and Biorefinery in Fulton, MS and up to 5 additional plants in the United States. Under the MOU, Huadian will invest equity by purchasing an interest in the BlueFire Fulton Renewable Energy LLC and, optionally, debt for the Fulton project to complete financing and construction for this cellulosic ethanol facility.

Status: Site prep was completed in 2011 — since then, we’ve not seen progress on this one. Financing has proved elusive, despite a large DOE grant that would help with the project cost.


Mascoma – first commercial cellulosic ethanol project – Kinross, MI


In January: Construction commencement of the 20 million gallon first commercial project was expected by early in Q3. Last year, the company wrote, “We anticipate construction of this facility to start in 3 to 6 months and we expect the facility to begin operations in mid-2014. Based on current cost estimates, we believe this facility will be fully financed by Valero in addition to grants and awards from the DOE and the State of Michigan.”

The technology developed by Mascoma Corporation uses yeast and bacteria that are engineered to produce large quantities of the enzymes necessary to break down the cellulose and ferment the resulting sugars into ethanol. Combining these two steps (enzymatic digestion and fermentation) significantly reduces costs by eliminating the need for enzyme produced in a separate refinery. This process, called Consolidated Bioprocessing or “CBP”, will ultimately enable the conversion of the solar energy contained in plants to ethanol in just a few days.

Status: Though Mascoma via its subsidiary Frontier Renewable Resources, LLC, has entered into definitive agreements with Valero Energy Corporation, the nation’s largest independent oil refiner and a leading ethanol producer, to develop and operate the commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facility in Kinross, Michigan – we haven’t heard any updates on commencement of construction. So, we’ll give this one an incomplete grade for now.


Abengoa Biorefinery, first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant – Hugoton, KS


In January: Construction is expected to be completed by the end of 2013 with some ethanol production starting the same year, though ramp up will be in 2014.

In October, Abengoa CEO Manuel Sanchez Ortega, said; “Abengoa believes that the advanced biofuel industry offers positive opportunities for investment and we are now approximately 1 year into construction of a commercial scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Hugoton, Kansas. This commercial scale facility is on schedule to be completed and to begin commercial production near the end of 2013. Abengoa is committed to the advancement of renewable fuel as a path to securing a clean energy future for all.”

Status: The project, which began 22 months ago, is now preparing for the startup of the cogeneration section. Moreover, 98 % of the equipment purchase arrangements and contracts has been completed and closure of the contracting for some mechanical assembly works is all that is pending.

The construction of the facilities of this biorefinery will allow Abengoa to use its patented technology, developed and proven over the past ten years, to produce renewable liquid fuel from the most abundant source of organic feedstock on Earth: vegetable fiber or cellulosic biomass. The aim is to have the ethanol plant in operation by January 2014. Startup of several areas such as the PTA, biomass handling, cooling towers, boiler and turbine units is scheduled to commence next September. Corn stover will be used as feedstock.


Granbio commercial cellulosic ethanol plant, Alagoas, Brazil


In January: Last spring, GranBio Investimentos announced plans to invest $724.5 million in five cellulosic ethanol plants during the next few years. The first 21.6 million gallon facility in Alagoas that will use sugarcane bagasse as feedstock is expected to come online in December 2013. The first plant will produce cellulosic ethanol from sugarcane bagasse and straw, and Novozymes will supply the necessary enzyme technology while Beta Renewables and Chemtex, both part of Italian chemical group Mossi & Ghisolfi (M&G), will provide other process technologies and engineering.

Status: GranBio is guiding now that “the 2G ethanol plant being built in Alagoas should begin operating in early 2014 with a nominal production capacity of 82 million liters per year.” Meanwhile, Sugaronline News is reporting that “the Bioflex unit, a division of GranBio in Alagoas state, confirmed it would inaugurate next week its first experimental planting of energy cane production in Alagoas. The crop will be in the city of Barra de Sao Miguel, and be ready for harvest in the first quarter of 2014.”


POET-DSM Project Liberty, Emmetsburg, IA


In January: In October, POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels said that Project LIBERTY construction is scheduled to be complete in late 2013, and this fall farmers are increasing the amount of biomass delivered to the site in an effort to fine-tune storage efforts and get farmers used to the biomass collection process.  POET-DSM officials confirmed that the plant will hit its goal of collecting about 85,000 tons of corn cobs and light stover in this harvest season. Project LIBERTY is expected to produce 20 million gallons per year of cellulosic bio-ethanol, growing to about 25 million gallons per year.

Status: at the Fuel Ethanol Workshop last month, POET-DSM moved the start date to “early 2014” – full-scale construction has been underway since March.


LanzaTech, first commercial, (with Baosteel), Shanghai, China

Siemens und LanzaTech wollen Bioethanol aus Stahlwerksabgasen erzeugen / Siemens and LanzaTech partner to transform steel mill off-gases into bioethanol

In January: A full scale commercial facility with Baosteel is planned for 2013 – and LanzaTech is currently commissioning a second pre-commercial facility, also in China, based on a JV with China’s Shougang Group, aimed also to follow with a commercial production facility in 2013.

Status: The two companies are currently developing the engineering for a new facility to further scale the process and make steel mill waste gas-biofuel a commercial reality in China. The full scale commercial facility with Baosteel is planned for 2014. LanzaTech is also currently operating a pre-commercial facility at a Shougang steel facility outside of Beijing.


COFCO/Sinopec first commercial cellulosic ethanol – Zhaodong, China


In January: In fall 2011, groundbreaking took place at the COFCO cellulosic ethanol production line in Zhaodong, which will have a capacity of 50,000 metric tons per year, and confirmed a launch in 2013. COFCO invested $156.7 million in the production line of cellulosic ethanol with capacity of 100,000 tons per year. The project expands upon the pilot it has been running since 2007 that produces 500 tons per year. The production cost has come down to $956 per ton from $3,134 per ton in 2006 thanks to Celic CTec2, a new product of Novozymes, can not only shorten the fermentation time, but also reduce the outcome of byproducts.

Status: No updates on the project in some time – though Novozymes continues to tip a 2013 project completion date on its website.

Bonus Projects

Myriant. Last month, word arrived from Myriant that they have reached mechanical completion at their first small commercial (30 million pound) plant in Lake Providence, Louisiana and commenced shipping commercial product.

Myriant’s bio-succinic acid plant is the first of its kind and scale in North America and has an annual nameplate production capacity of 30 million pounds of bio-succinic acid.


Myriant’s Lake Providence Commercial Facility is partially funded through a $50 million cost sharing cooperative agreement received from the United States Department of Energy (DOE), $25 million from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) B&I Loan Guarantee Program and a $10 million grant from the Lake Providence Port Commission and the Louisiana Department of Transportation.

In December 2010 Myriant broke ground on that facility, after completing an innovative bond financing structure put together by the trio of Stern Brothers, Mintz Levin and Kreig DeVault.

Lake Providence’s 30 million pound capacity is currently “oversubscribed”. The 140 million pound plant is “at 75% in long-term contracts. By opening time, we expect that to be sold out,” noted Gatto.

Elevance-Wilmar. Last week, Wilmar International and Elevance Renewable Sciences announced that they have begun shipping commercial products, including novel specialty chemicals, to customers from their first world-scale joint venture biorefinery, located in Gresik, Indonesia.

The biorefinery is the first based on Elevance’s proprietary metathesis technology, and has a capacity of 180kMT (approximately 400 million pounds) with the ability to expand up to 360kMT (approximately 800 million pounds) of products.

moemaSolazyme-Bunge. Solazyme and Bunge have broken ground on a their 100,000 metric ton renewable oil production facility adjacent to Bunge’s Moema sugarcane mill in Brazil. Construction started on schedule and the plant is targeted to be operational in the fourth quarter of 2013. It will service the renewable chemical and fuel industries within the Brazilian marketplace and will initially target 100,000 metric tons per year of renewable oil production.

In November 2012, Solazyme and Bunge announced in a framework agreement that they intend to expand production capacity from 100,000 metric tons to 300,000 metric tons globally by 2016, and that the portfolio of oils will broaden to include a range of healthy and nutritious edible food oils for sale in Brazil.

The Bottom Line

Completions. 12 Projects – two (BlueFire and COFCO) have increasingly uncertain completion dates. One (INEOS Bio) has been mechanically complete for more than a year, but isn’t reporting that it has commenced producing or shipping cellulosic ethanol. 9 either open or generally on track, though we haven’t heard much on the Mascoma project lately.

Timing. Generally, this class has been on the late side – though it’s been a matter, generally, of a few months. Commissioning periods have been generally slower than seen in typical chemical plants – though there have been exceptions of late such as Myriant and Elevance.

Overall capacity. The over-achievers have, in general, outperformed the underachievers. Myriant, Solazyme and Elevance will add roughly 25 million gallons more capacity than was originally expected from BlueFire, Mascoma, COFCO and INEOS Bio.

Overall grades. We’re roughly halfway through the year and about halfway through the list — it’s an “Incomplete” so far, but shaping up as a strong year for advanced bio.

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