“1.5 Gen” Technologies Could Boost Cellulosic Ethanol Production by Nearly 2 Billion Gallons

Source: By Jesse Stolark, EESI • Posted: Tuesday, September 5, 2017

On August 30, D3MAX joined a growing list of companies by announcing that they are ready to deploy a “1.5 gen” ethanol technology at the Ace Ethanol facility in Stanley, Wisconsin.  The 1.5 gen technology allows first generation ethanol facilities (corn ethanol) to convert corn kernel fiber to ethanol.  The overall result is a new technology at existing ethanol plants that could potentially squeeze anywhere from 1.5 billion to 2 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol from existing corn feedstocks.

1.5 gen technology removes the outer coating of the corn kernel to convert it to ethanol. Since corn kernels contain 10 to 12 percent fiber, utilizing the fiber yields up to an additional 10 percent of ethanol, as well as much as 50 percent additional corn oil.  The process does decrease the amount of dried distillers grains (DDGS), a valuable animal feed product, by about 20 percent.

Since EPA considers corn fiber an agricultural waste, it may be classified as a cellulosic feedstock, provided its use lowers greenhouse gases (GHGs) 60 percent, relative to gasoline.  The cellulosic categorization allows companies to collect more valuable cellulosic Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs), the tradable number that is used to show compliance under the Renewable Fuel Standard.  As a cellulosic feedstock, the corn fiber also fetches a higher value under California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS).  Both regulations have provided incentive to the ethanol industry to invest in this bolt-on cellulosic technology.

In addition to D3MAX, industry players include DuPont and Novozymes (producing enzymes for the process), Edeniq, ICM and Syngenta.  Edeniq’s process is a little different – it simply adds enzymes that can process the corn kernel fiber to ethanol during fermentation. The in-situ process has lower costs but also a lower yield. Its technology has been implemented at a number of existing ethanol plants, including Pacific Ethanol’s Stockton CA plant, Flint Hill Resources in Shell Rock, IA, and Little Sioux Corn Processors, in Marcus, IA and Siouxland Energy Cooperative, in Sioux Center, IA.

According to Eneniq, a 120 million gallon per year ethanol plant using the Edeniq pathway can increase profits by $7 million a year, by adding cellulosic ethanol and additional corn oil as products. Conversely, ICM and D3MAX are adding bolt-on technology and first separating the fiber from the starch, which has higher upfront costs but results in much higher cellulosic ethanol yield.

Indeed, 1.5 gen technology is so successful it is one main reason why the ethanol industry is puzzled as to why EPA proposed lowering cellulosic fuel volumes for the first time, from 311 million gallons in 2017, to 238 million gallons.

While the 1.5 gen technology has been in use since late 2016 at several plants, EPA assumes these new 1.5 cellulosic facilities will underperform in their 2018 RFS proposal. According to an analysis of the EPA proposal by the Union of Concerned Scientists, EPA estimates that new cellulosic facilities, including 1.5 gen corn fiber technology, will only produce 1 million gallons out of a 100 million gallons of new capacity in 2018.  Yet, when considering just a moderate growth increase in 1.5 gen technology alone, this proposal is illogical.

As just one example, Quad County Corn Processors is already producing more than 5 million gallons of cellulosic fuels According to recent analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists, they come to this conclusion using 1.5 gen technology. Therefore, it is safe to assume that the growth potential in cellulosic fuel volumes from 1.5 gen technology alone in 2018 is much higher than 1 million gallons. Indeed, the additional value provided to the ethanol industry by the RFS has provided the market incentive to develop and invest in 1.5 gen technology.

According to Delayne Johnson, CEO of Quad County Corn Processors, which is utilizing Syngenta’s 1.5 gen technology, “There’s a one billion to two billion gallon [cellulosic] opportunity in the United States without grinding any more corn.”

For an industry where every gallon counts – that’s good news.

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