USDA Guarantees Loan for GA Wood Ethanol Plant

Range FuelsA Colorado-based firm with a planned biorefinery located near Soperton, Georgia is the recipient of a loan guaranteed by USDA Rural Development to make cellulosic biofuel from wood chips, according to a USDA announcement. The finalized deal with Range Fuels was first announced last year and represents the first ever loan guarantee by USDA to a commercial-scale cellulosic biofuel plant. This project is expected to provide biorefinery jobs, construction jobs and support the timber industry.

USDA“USDA’s investment in the construction of Range Fuels’ commercial facility, which will produce cellulosic biofuel from non-food biomass, such as wood chips, demonstrates the Obama Administration’s goal to make the United States a leader in renewable energy production and furthers the President’s ongoing efforts to bring jobs to rural communities,” said Under Secretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsager. “USDA is proud to work with the lender and the private sector to bring economic opportunity to rural areas.”

The $80 million loan, being made by AgSouth Farm Credit to Range Fuels, Inc., is being guaranteed through USDA’s Biorefinery Assistance Program authorized by the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 and administered by USDA Rural Development. When fully operational, the plant is expected to produce an estimated 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year. USDA announced a conditional commitment to provide the loan guarantee for Range Fuels in January, 2009.

University of Florida Ethanol Plant Breaks Ground

florida ethanolRepresentatives from the University of Florida, Buckeye Technologies Inc. and the Florida Legislature broke ground for a new pilot plant to produce ethanol from cellulosic biomass.

Funded by a $20 million appropriation from the Florida Legislature, the plant will be built at the Perry, Fla. facility of Buckeye Technologies Inc., a manufacturer and worldwide distributor of cellulose-based specialty products made from wood and cotton. It is scheduled to be operational by spring 2011.

Much of the plant’s research will be based on the work of Lonnie Ingram, UF distinguished professor of microbiology and cell science and director of the Florida Center for Renewable Chemicals and Fuels. Ingram engineered an E. coli bacterium that breaks down inedible plant material into sugars that can be processed into fuel-grade cellulosic ethanol. Variations of the technology are already at work in fuel plants in Louisiana and Japan.

Click on photo, courtesy of IFAS news, for a larger view. Pictured left to right: Lonnie Ingram, UF distinguished professor of microbiology and cell science; Leonard Bembry, Florida House of Representatives District 10; Ralph Poppell, Florida House of Representatives District 29; Debbie Mayfield, Florida House of Representatives District 80; John Crowe, Buckeye Technologies, Inc. chief executive officer; Bernie Machen, University of Florida president; Cynthia O’Connell, University of Florida Board of Trustees; Larry Arrington, University of Florida interim senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources.

Verenium and BP Extend Agreement Again

VereniumBPVerenium and BP are continuing to work on a month to month basis toward the development and commercialization of cellulosic ethanol.

The two companies today announced another month long extension to the initial 18-month joint development program established in August 2008. The previous extension to the agreement ended today, now it will continue until April 1, 2010 as the parties continue negotiations for a longer-term collaboration. In the meantime, Verenium gets another $2.5 million from BP to co-fund the cellulosic ethanol program for the month of March.

Poplar Could be Ethanol Feedstock

Poplar trees could get more popular if they prove to be the next big ethanol feedstock.

A team of researchers at the University of Maryland, College Park, and Bowie State University is working on ways to use the hybrid trees to make ethanol and other biofuels, since they could be grown on plantations and harvested without affecting existing woodlands. Poplar, which is also known as cottonwood or aspen, is already commonly cultivated for the production of paper and timber.

The study is funded by a $3.2 million, four-year grant from the National Science Foundation’s Plant Genome Research Project, which supports research on plants seen as having economic and agricultural importance. Using the recently completed poplar genome, the researchers are focusing on ways to improve the tree’s nitrogen processing capability, which will enhance its growth rate and feasibility for use in fuel production.

New Ideas for Funding Sustainable Biofuels

If you did a survey among the biofuels industry and asked if the funding programs for biofuels research and development were working, most would say no. Actually, many outside of the industry would say no. As the country continues forward on the federal goals set out in the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) things will need to change if we’re going to achieve them claims Advanced Biofuels USA. The organization recently passed a resolution to introduce new ideas to generate federal funding and investments in the development of sustainable biofuels.

The answer: the Highway Trust fund along with an increase in the transportation fuel user fee.

As part of this resolution, Advanced Biofuels USA provides a summary analysis of the “causes of the failure to surmount technical challenges, to obtain adequate financing, and to assure demand for biofuels consistent with the expectation expressed in the RFS.” It also provides suggestions to reverse these issues. In a nutshell the group states that for a successful future of biofuels, the oversight should belong in the US Department of Transportation (DOT) and removed from the Department of Energy (DOE) and Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The overarching idea is that a dedicated funding source to be used only for advanced biofuel (meeting RFS and beyond) commercial deployment should be established as part of the Transportation Trust Fund. It would be funded by a $.01/gallon user fee (between $850 million and $1billion/year) and a similar fee on electricity used for plug-in vehicles.

Should an idea like this take effect… Continue reading

American Process Begins Cellulosic Testing in Georgia

American Process had a ribbon cutting ceremony today celebrating its first cellulosic ethanol production at its pilot plant in Thomaston, GA. The plant was designed to test its proprietary technology, AVAP, American Value Added Pulping. This process co-produces pulp and ethanol from wood in an integrated biorefinery application. The wood is also used to provide energy for the plant.

According to the company’s website, AVAP utilizes alcohol sulfite cooking liquor to fractionate softwood chips into three lignocellulosic components. The addition of alcohol speeds the pulping, but still preserves the cellulose strength. Volatile cooking chemicals are stripped and reused in the cooking process at a high recovery rate, and lignosulfonates are precipitated and burned to produce process energy. The remaining liquid fraction contains hydrolyzed hemicelluloses. The company estimates that this sugar rich solution, when fermented, will annually yield up to 22.6 million gallons of bioethanol from a mill producing 500 tpd of pulp. The company notes that the value of converted hemicelluloses is 4-5 times greater for society as ethanol than as presently burned.

According to Bob Belling, the VP of Business Development, the site will produce about 80k gals/yr of ethanol. At this time, it will not be blended or sold and the pilot plant is being used for research only. The project has also created about 20 jobs in Atlanta and Thomaston.

Butalco Set to Produce Cellulosic Ethanol

German-based Butalco has announced that it will begin producing biofuel from agricultural waste this summer using its proprietary new yeast technology. The pilot plant is located in Southern Germany and the company’s new microbial catalysts will enable up to a 30 percent increase in yields during cellulosic ethanol production.

As explained by the company, cellulosic biomass, like plant waste materials, contains different types of sugars like glucose (C6) and pentoses (C5). Traditionally, yeasts are used in bioethanol production as they can efficiently ferment glucose into ethanol, but they are unable to digest the C5 sugars. Companies such as Butalco are looking at enzymes to break the plant biomass into C5/C6 sugar mixtures.

Eckhard Boles, co-founder of Butalco, said in a press statement, “Our new technology now tells the yeast cells to also ferment the C5 waste sugars into ethanol which makes the production of cellulosic ethanol much more efficient and cheaper. Together with the new commercially viable enzymes launched last week by the enzyme companies Danisco and Novozymes, Butalco’s yeast technology will enable cellulosic ethanol as a competitive alternative to gasoline.”

The company will use Hohenheim University’s (Stuttgart, Germany) newly built pilot plant for the production of its first amounts of cellulosic ethanol. Last year, Butalco signed a research and development contract with the Institute of Fermentation Technology within the Department of Food Science and Biotechnology at Hohenheim University. The institute has been concerned with questions on the production of bioethanol for almost 30 years. The plant is able to convert both starch and lignocellulosic based raw materials into ethanol.

Ethanol Industry Rep Appointed to California Panel

CA ARBAt least one ethanol industry representative has been appointed to an expert work group attempting to assess the true carbon footprint of all fuel sources under the California’s proposed Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

POET Senior Vice President of Science and Technology Mark Stowers has been appointed to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is one of 30 experts from around the world appointed to the group. The group has been charged with assisting the Board in “refining and improving the land use and indirect effect analysis of transportation fuels,” according to a CARB resolution. The group will come up with recommendations to present to CARB by Jan. 1, 2011. The group’s first meeting will be Feb. 26 in Sacramento.

“The Low Carbon Fuel Standard is an important piece of energy policy, too important to rely on theories or unproven models,” Stowers said. “As the lone representative for ethanol producers in the workgroup, I want to make sure than all carbon accounting is based on the wealth of facts and accumulated data regarding agriculture, energy and deforestation. I also want to ensure that all fuels, including oil and electricity, are held to the same accounting standards as biofuels so that the rule truly can lower carbon emissions.”

The group also includes Jesper Hedal Kløverpris of Novozymes, which produces enzymes to further the development of advanced biofuels, as well as a number of university and energy researchers – but Stowers is the only ethanol industry representative on the panel. Stowers has led efforts at POET to create new, efficient processes for producing grain-based ethanol that save energy, limit water use and improve ethanol yields. He also leads POET’s cellulosic ethanol effort, known as Project LIBERTY, which produces ethanol from corn cobs.

Mascoma Honored with Top Biofuels Award

Lux Research has recently released a new report, “Ranking Biofuel Startups on the Lux Innovation Grid, which analyzes a number of key criteria to indicate which companies are more likey to succeed as the market matures. One of the companies given top honors is Mascoma Corporation.

“We are proud to be considered a top biofuels company by Lux,” said William J. Brady, CEO of Mascoma. “This distinction validates our efforts to be a leader in the growing cellulosic ethanol industry. Coupled with this award, our strong financial backing and proven technology breakthroughs in Consolidated Bioprocessing emphasize that we are ahead of the pack on the road to commercialization.”

This is not the first award that Mascoma has received in the past few months. The company was ranked #10 in the Biofuels Digest’sHottest Companies in Bioenergy.”

The Lux Innovation Grid is used to predict which segments of the biofuels markets are poised to succeed based on selective criteria including revenue per employee, patents, performance metrics, production capacity, and other data.

Click here to get more information about the report.

Exciting Enzymes at Ethanol Conference

Three different companies announced the introduction of new enzymes for cellulosic ethanol production at this week’s National Ethanol Conference in Orlando.

Novozymes made the biggest splash with its Cellic® CTec2 for the production of biofuel from agricultural waste, but the other two are no less significant in the race towards commercialization of advanced biofuels.

VereniumVerenium Corporation‘s new introduction into the enzyme mix is called Xylathin, which is specifically designed to improve the economics of fuel ethanol production from cereal grains. According to the company, “Xylathin rapidly breaks down xylan, a compound found in cereal grains such as wheat, rye and barley and significantly reduces mash viscosity. This faster acting enzyme allows producers to shorten retention times and reduce enzyme dose. Xylathin also reduces grain water retention lowering grain drying energy requirements.”

GenencorAt the same time, Danisco’s Genencor introduced Accellerase® DUET, a step up from Accellerase® 1500. “Accellerase® DUET employs a whole broth formulation, which provides nutrients for fermentative organisms and lowers the chemical load introduced into our customers’ processes. Higher performance at lower dose will lead to significant improvements in enzyme cost in use for producers, which is critical to enable the cellulosic biofuels industry.”

Representatives from all three companies, as well as others in the field, made presentations at two different sessions during the National Ethanol Conference to talk about advanced biofuels technology and the path to commercialization. If you attended the conference, those presentations are now available on-line.