US puts $114m into cellulosic ethanol projects

29 January 2008 23:34  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--The US Energy Department said on Tuesday it will invest up to $114m (€77m) over four years in partial funding of four pilot plants to explore cellulosic ethanol feedstock options and production processes.

 

The department said that when combined with approximately $217m in private sector funding, the four pilot projects represent an investment of more than $331m.

 

Each plant project will be capable of producing about 2.5m gal/year of cellulosic ethanol using a variety of test feedstocks and processes to “provide data necessary to bring online full-size, commercial-scale biorefineries”, the department said.

 

A commercial ethanol plant would have annual output capacity of around 25m gallons or 75,000 tonnes.

 

Announcing the department’s investment at a biofuels conference, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said the pilot plants project was part of the Bush administration’s goal of making cellulosic ethanol cost-competitive with gasoline by 2012.

 

There are as yet no commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol production units in the US.

 

In a separate project announced in February last year, the department is providing funding of up to $385m over four years for six commercial-scale biorefineries using conventional cellulosic conversion technologies.  The department also is providing $375m to fund three biogenetic research facilities that are to explore potential for microbiotic conversion of cellulosic feedstock into cost-effective fuels.

 

The project funding for four cellulosic pilot plants anticipates that the facilities will begin production within four years.

 

Noting that the four pilot plants are to be built in Midwestern and Western states of Missouri, Wisconsin, Colorado and Oregon, Bodman said the projects also are meant to demonstrate regional potential for cellulosic ethanol production, drawing on feedstock options available in each site state.

 

Current US bio-ethanol production, which is wholly corn-based, is concentrated in upper Midwest farm states.

 

Bodman said the department anticipates making a second round of cellulosic pilot project funding sometime in the second quarter this year.

 

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), a US trade group, lauded the DOE investment, calling it “a critical initiative to speed up the commercialization of cellulosic ethanol”.

 

“The work that will be done at these facilities will yield commercially produced ethanol from cellulosic material much sooner than naysayers and conventional wisdom suggest,” said RFA president Bob Dinneen.

 

Under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which was signed into law in December, the US will need to produce at least 100m gal/year of cellulosic ethanol by 2010. That mandate jumps to 500m gal/year by 2012.

 

The legislation, which amended the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) of 2005, will require the US to use 36bn gal/year of renewable fuels in 2022. Of that amount, 16bn gal/year must be cellulose-based.

 

($1.00=€0.68)

 

(With additional reporting by William Lemos)


By: Joe Kamalick
+1 713 525 2653



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