US puts $385m into cellulosic ethanol effort

28 February 2007 17:53  [Source: ICIS news]

Broin site in Iowa to get federal fundingWASHINGTON (ICIS news)--The Department of Energy will spend up to $385m (€291m) to help fund six biorefineries in what Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said on Wednesday is a major step toward cost-effective US production of cellulosic ethanol.


The Energy Department funding will make up about 40% of the total $1.2bn that will be invested over the next four years, the department said, with the six ethanol production firms providing the $815m balance.


Bodman said that when fully operational, the six facilities will produce more than 130m gal/year of cellulosic ethanol.


“These projects we hope will support cost-effective cellulosic ethanol in the near future,” Bodman said, adding that advances expected from the six competitive projects are part of a federal government plan “for breakthroughs in cellulosic ethanol production that can then be replicated at a commercial level”.


Bodman said he hopes the six projects will by 2012 make cellulosic ethanol cost-competitive with gasoline. He said the target is cellulosic ethanol production at a cost of about $1/gal within five years.


Estimates of current costs for cellulosic ethanol production range from $2.50 to $5 per gallon. However, one producer who was given an Energy Department funding award, California's BlueFire Ethanol of Irvine,said it was already producing $1/gal cellulosic ethanol using agricultural waste from landfills.


In addition to BlueFire, the department’s funding awards included Broin Companies of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which plans to produce more than 30m gal/year of cellulosic ethanol at its existing Emmetsburg, Iowa facility from agricultural waste using a process developed by DuPont.


“This effort is a really big deal,” Bodman said of the funding awards. He said the funding awards could provide significant advances toward wide-scale production of cellulosic ethanol from a variety of feedstocks across the US to produce motor fuels and chemicals.


President George Bush has set 2017 as the target date for US output of 35bn gal of ethanol and other renewable fuels. Bodman acknowledged that current US corn-based ethanol production some 6bn gal/year is unlikely to top 15bn gal/year and that breakthroughs in cost-competitive cellulosic ethanol will be needed to reach the 35bn gal goal.


Cellulosic ethanol can be produced from a variety of inedible agricultural products, including corn stover, wheat chaff, switch grass and wood chips, among others.

By: Joe Kamalick
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