DuPont, Ethanol Europe Renewables ink pact for cellulosic ethanol in Macedonia

October 16, 2014 |
DuPont's Nevada cellulosic biofuels plant, as of August.  The core technology and fermenter units can be seen at center; at left center, biomass intake; at left, storage and distillation

DuPont’s Nevada cellulosic biofuels plant, as of August. The core technology and fermenter units can be seen at center; at left center, biomass intake; at left, storage and distillation

Macedonian government joins as signatory for MOU. 100 million liter cellulosic refinery could start construction in 2016.

As much of the advanced biofuels industry heads for Kansas to take part in the opening ceremonies for Abengoa’s cellulosic ethanol refinery in Hugoton, news arrives from Skopje, Macedonia that the Republic of Macedonia today joined a MOU to facilitate the development of the cellulosic ethanol market in the Pelagonia region between Ethanol Europe and DuPont. 

According to DuPont, “This collaboration agreement brings together three critical components for the preparation of detailed feasibility studies for a commercial scale 2G ethanol plant to supply the European market.”

Macedonia’s Minister for Foreign Investments Bill Plaveski told media following a signing ceremony in Skopja that “The project includes a construction of modern biorefinery with a capacity of 100 million liters. The project, a five-year investment of EUR 250 million, will create 1,000 jobs. The plant’s construction should start in 2016 and be completed for two years.”

Signing the MOU today were (from left)  Jan Koninckx, global business director for Biorefineries at DuPont, Macedonia's Minister for Foreign Investments Bill Plaveski and Ethanol Europe Renewables Limited President Mark Turley.

Signing the MOU today were (from left) Jan Koninckx, global business director for Biorefineries at DuPont, Macedonia’s Minister for Foreign Investments Bill Plaveski and Ethanol Europe Renewables Limited President Mark Turley.

What’s in the MOU, exactly?

The government of Macedonia will facilitate the project in establishing a viable supply chain using energy crops, increasing local production of cereals and oilseeds, and offering incentives for renewable biomass electricity for the nation’s power grid. 

In turn, Ethanol Europe will create an investment plan with the intent to develop the sustainable agricultural supply chain, project design, project financing, and construction of a 100 million liter biorefinery. 

For it’s part, DuPont will license the cellulosic ethanol technology currently being commercialized at its Nevada, Iowa biorefinery, supplying the enzymes that unlock the sugars in biomass and advising on development of a sustainable agricultural supply chain.

 The stakeholders speak

“We believe the Macedonian Cellulosic Project can reassert Europe’s leadership in the bioeconomy,” said Eric Sievers, CEO, Ethanol Europe.  “This project provides a road map forward on how Europe can replace fossil fuels with biofuels that add to global food security.   The European Parliament must create a stable, renewable energy policy environment that encourages investments in advanced biofuels innovation to enable projects like this to bring economic and social as well as substantial job creation to underdeveloped regions of rural Europe.  We are very pleased to have obtained the support of a technical partner of the caliber of Du Pont for this project” 

“Today’s announcement is further acknowledgement of the viability of DuPont’s integrated biorefinery model,” said Jan Koninckx, global business director for advanced biofuels at DuPont. “This project is particularly significant for its use of purpose grown energy crops as the primary feedstock. Ethanol Europe’s success in developing a highly efficient first generation ethanol facility in Hungary has been a key factor in our decision to partner with them in introducing our technology to Europe.” 

More on Ethanol Europe

Ethanol Europe Renewables is perhaps best known for its 240 million liter corn ethanol plant called Pannonia Ethanol, which opened in 2012 as a joint venture of the Fagen and Turley families. At the time Pannonia opened, the development company announced its intention to build a second ethanol plant in Mohacs, Hungary, about an hour away from the first plant. “Hopefully, by the end of the summer we will be ready to announce our third [location], which is not in Hungary,” Sievers says.

By 2014, the tune had changed and the CEO of Ethanol Europe Renewables says Europe’s Renewable Energy Directive had killed off private sector investment in biofuels, and that only a clear and stable policy that guarantees certainty in the European market until 2030 will reverse that trend. He argued that what is needed is a zero-ILUC policy that focuses on crops that would not have been grown otherwise.

Growing momentum in Europe for advanced biofuels

So, this new direction towards cellulosic ethanol offers significant opportunities in central Europe for EER — with European struggling primarily over food-for-fuel and indirect land use change issues. In this case, utilizing purpose-grown energy crops provides a potential way around the roadblocks to investment that have grown around the first-generation feedstocks such as corn and rapeseed in the EU.

The news comes just hours after Italian government created a 0.6% advanced biofuels blending mandate by 2018, the first in Europe to set up such a policy to boost demand for next generation fuels. That figure will increase to 1% by 2022. Beta Renewables produces 75 million liters per year at its facility in Crescentino and the country expects three more cellulosic ethanol plants to come online in southern Italy during the next year.

And it follows news from last week that Biochemtex and Beta Renewables announced an agreement with Energochemica SE for the construction of a 16.5 million gallon (55,000 ton per year) cellulosic ethanol plant. The plant, which will be constructed in Strazske, Slovak Republic, will also generate power and steam. The project is commencing immediately and the start-up of the plant is anticipated for the first half of 2017. The plant will utilize non-food biomass as its feedstock and is expected to deliver “cost-competitive ethanol” according to the project sponsors.

For cellulosic fuels, the greenhouse gas emissions savings are substantial. DuPont noted  that GHG savings from the Macedonian Cellulosic Plant’s ethanol could exceed 100% under the methodology of the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive, “all while having no adverse impacts on food security”.

The Bottom Line

Since the technologies have been coming along for some time, it would be overstating it to suggest that cellulosic fuels are a new direction for the EU — they have been hard at work on them for some time. But this certainly adds materially to the sense of momentum. Slovakia, Macedonia, and Italy — all in one month. There’s little doubt that cellulosic ethanol capacity is rising fast.

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