Abengoa opens world’s largest cellulosic biorefinery, as US Energy Secretary Moniz says “Let’s get going!” on advanced biofuels.

October 19, 2014 |

Abengoa-pretreatment-sm“Welcome to the future of biotechnology and the biofuel industry.”

In Kansas, Abengoa Bioenergy officially opened the world’s largest cellulosic biorefinery in Hugoton on Friday, surrounded by dignitaries such as US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, Kansas senior Senator Pat Roberts, former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson among many others.

The second generation cellulosic ethanol plant in Hugoton, Kansas, located about 90 miles southwest of Dodge City finished construction in mid-August and began producing cellulosic ethanol at the end of September with the capacity to produce up to 25 million gallons per year.

The capacity

The refinery’s nameplate capacity makes it, for the time being, the world’s largest cellulosic biofuels facility, topping the 21 million gallon capacity of the GranBio facility in Alagoas, Brasil. The plant is expected to hold the “world’s largest” title until the DuPont first commercial plant opens in Nevada, Iowa early in the new year.

The plant utilizes corn stover residues that do not compete with food or feed grain. The state-of-the-art facility also features an electricity cogeneration component allowing it to operate as a self-sufficient renewable energy producer. By utilizing residual biomass solids from the ethanol conversion process, the plant generates 21 megawatts (MW) of electricity – enough to power itself and provide 4-5 megawatts of renewable power to the local Stevens County community.


US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz

US Energy Secretary Moniz makes first major address on renewable fuels

US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz utilized the occasion to make his first keynote address on bioenergy. “The oil & gas revolution, part of the US “all of the above” energy strategy, is already showing the importance of advanced energy technology and is having a major spillover effect with 700,000 new manufacturing jobs created as a result of new technologies unlocking low-cost natural gas.

But we are still importing 7.5 million barrels of oil per day. And we have three strategies to reduce that: efficient vehicles, electrification, and alternative fuels.

“It is critical that the Department of Energy play a role in new technology from development to initial deployment, and this Abengoa biorefinery is a prime example of the public-private partnerships that are realizing results.”

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback hailed “a rural renaissance” and said his goal was to establish Kansas as “the Renewable State,” noting the impact that bioenergy and wind energy were having in expanding the Kansas economy.

Brownback, whose father was a first-gen ethanol investor, noted that “it has been a dream for 30 years that we would be able to develop new markets by converting cellulose residues and waste into agricultural products. Cellulosic was always an aspiration that has become a reality.

Reflecting back on the long journey to cellulosic fuels, Brownback said that “new technologies are always tough, the barriers to entry are high and the competition is tough.”

US Senator Pat Roberts

US Senator Pat Roberts

Kansas Senator Pat Roberts

“Kansas was the first state to introduce hydraulic fracking,” said US Senator Pat Roberts. “Kansas is used to setting that standard, and we are so happy to be part of setting a new standard again.

“I take pride in having worked to support the 2005 and 2007 energy policy acts that helped create the incentives and structure for this technology.

“I see my friend Ken Salazar, who was a colleague of mine in the Senate before serving as Interior Secretary. There used to be a lot of Salazar-Roberts and Roberts-Salazar legislation, and I sure hope we get back to those days.”


Abengoa CEO Manuel Sánchez Ortega

Abengoa CEO Manuel Sánchez Ortega

Abengoa CEO Manuel Sánchez Ortega

“The Hugoton plant opening is the result of 10 years of technical development, roughly 40,000 hours of pilot and demonstration plant operation, and the support of the DOE,” said Manuel Sánchez Ortega, CEO of Abengoa.

“This is a proud and pivotal moment for Abengoa and for the larger advanced bioenergy industry – and further demonstrates our longstanding commitment to providing sustainable energy alternatives in the United States. This would have been simply impossible without the establishment of the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Referring to the partnership with the DOE, Sánchez Ortega said that the DOE supplied something even more important than financial support, “you gave us your support and your confidence. Together we never accepted the impossible even when it was impossible. Here is your plant.”

Sánchez Ortega called for strengthening the US commitment to the Renewable Fuel Standard to ensure that “this is not the last facility of this size and type built in the United States. Where was no path for us to invest $500 million, filled with risk, without that framework that the RFS provides.” Abengoa received a $132.4 million loan guarantee and a $97 million grant through the Department of Energy to support construction of the Hugoton facility.

Turning to the local leaders and growers in the audience of more than 200 who gathered for the grand opening, Sánchez Ortega said that “Hugoton is right here, in our hearts, and will always be so as we take this technology forward. Thank you, Hugoton.”

Plant manger Danny Alison

Plant manger Danny Alison

Plant manager Danny Allison

Plant manager Danny Allison added, “Seven years ago, all we could ofer was a promise to succeed.

“The community was sometimes skeptical, but always warm, always encouraging, always supportive even when we had 1,000 workers here in this small town during the construction phase.

Abengoa Bioenergy CEO Javier Garoz

Abengoa Bioenergy CEO Javier Garoz

Abengoa Bioenergy CEO Javier Garoz

Abengoa Bioenergy CEO Javier Garoz said that “key to the future are multiple chemicals and bioproducts. This is the year that cellulosic has proven to be viable.

Welcome to the future of biotechnology and the biofuel industry.”

Abengoa by the numbers

At full capacity, the Hugoton facility will process 1,000 tons per day of biomass, most of which is harvested within a 50-mile radius each year – providing $17 million per year of extra income for local farmers whose agricultural waste would otherwise have little or no value. Of that biomass, more than 80 percent is expected to consist of irrigated corn stover, with the remainder comprised of wheat straw, milo stubble and switchgrass.

Abengoa Bioenergy EVP Chris Standless was master of ceremonies for the opening day.

Abengoa Bioenergy EVP Chris Standless was master of ceremonies for the opening day.

On-site cogeneration will produce 21 MW of electricity per year – enough to power the plant and sell some back to the local Stevens County community.

The construction phase provided an average of 300 full time jobs. The plant itself will provide 76 full-time jobs, with an annual payroll in excess of $5 million.

Abengoa is the largest ethanol producer in Europe, and one of the largest in the U.S. The company also runs ethanol operations from sugar cane in Brazil, and has 867 million gallons of installed production capacity annually distributed among 15 plants in five countries. 405 million gallons of this capacity is located within the U.S.

Next steps

Abengoa plans to offer licenses and contracts to interested parties covering every aspect of this new industry – from process design, to engineering, procurement and construction, supply of exclusive enzymes, as well as operations and marketing of the completed products from the facility.

In addition to the plant’s crucial role in proving the commercial viability of cellulosic ethanol, its success provides a platform for the company’s future development of other bioproducts that reduce petroleum use, such as bioplastics, biochemicals and drop-in jet fuel.

The Abengoa biorefinery

The Abengoa biorefinery

Legacy of Innovation

With a biofuels presence on three continents, Abengoa notes that it is”is an international biotechnology company – one of the largest ethanol producers in the United States and Brazil, and the largest producer in Europe with a total of 867 million gallons of annual installed production capacity distributed among 15 commercial-scale plants in five countries.”

Reaction from industry

BIO President & CEO Jim Greenwood stated, “The advanced biofuel industry is starting up first-of-a-kind cellulosic biofuel plants, creating new jobs and proving the cost competitiveness of innovative new technology. The new cellulosic biorefinery opened by Abengoa Bioenergy today is the realization of nearly a decade of research and development and billions of dollars in investment and is the second commercial scale cellulosic biofuel plant in as many months. We congratulate Abengoa and its employees on this achievement.

“The Renewable Fuel Standard has been the driving force in encouraging innovative companies like Abengoa to invest this time and money to commercialize cellulosic biofuels. New advanced biofuel technologies are vital to the nation’s energy security. The United States must stay the course with the RFS, keeping this policy strong and operating consistently and predictably.”

Advanced Ethanol Council executive director Brooke Coleman said, “creating new markets for local agricultural products that will bring new opportunities for America’s farmers. Secretary Moniz is right when he says that these projects tie back to the Renewable Fuel Standard.

“The RFS is a game-changer when it comes to the global race to commercialize cellulosic biofuels. It is extremely important that the Obama Administration, which is proposing controversial changes to the RFS, continue to stand behind the original policy. If that happens, the vision articulated by Secretary Moniz will come to fruition.”

More photos of the biorefinery

Our tour of the complete biorefinery, in pictures, is here.

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