Abengoa weeks from starting US 25m gal/year cellulosic ethanol plant

18 February 2014 23:28 Source:ICIS News

ORLANDO, Florida (ICIS)--Abengoa is weeks away from starting up the ethanol portion of its cellulosic complex in Kansas, an executive with the company said on Tuesday.

Abengoa is among three companies that plan to start commercial-scale production of cellulosic ethanol this year. All three plants use enzymes to extract sugar from biomass.

POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels plans to complete the start-up of a 25m gal/year (94m litres/year) ethanol plant in Iowa by the end of the second quarter.

By the end of this year, DuPont should start operations at a 30m gal/year cellulosic ethanol plant in Iowa.

For years, cellulosic-based production has been a goal for the industry. It could create a potentially large and low-cost source for sugars that would not compete with food-based raw materials such as corn.

"How many years have we all sat around and said, 'In five years we're going to see commercial production’?" said Christopher Standlee, executive vice president of Abengoa Bioenergy New Technologies. Standlee made his comments at the National Ethanol Conference.

"Ladies and gentleman, I am thrilled to finally say that this is a pivotal year for second generation ethanol in the US, perhaps in the world," Standlee said.

Abengoa has already started a 21 MW plant at the site that is powered by biomass, Standlee said. The Spain-based multinational company started selling electricity produced from the plant to the grid last year.

The ethanol portion of the complex will use wheat straw and corn stover collected from a 50-mile (80km) radius, Standlee said.

Over the years, Abengoa has improved the efficiency of its production process, he said. At one point, the company was producing 55 gal of ethanol for each ton of biomass. Standlee did not specify if the biomass was measured in metric tonnes or short tons.

The company has since reached 80 gal/ton, he said.

Enzyme costs have fallen from $1.50/gal to 30 cents/gal, Standlee said. Overall production costs have fallen to about $2/gal from $4/gal.

Abengoa is now considering different feedstock for its process, such as municipal solid waste, Standlee said.

The National Ethanol Conference lasts through Wednesday.

By Al Greenwood