3 cellulosic producers eye 2014 start dates

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, May 1, 2014

Three big companies that have placed bets on turning agricultural waste into transportation fuel say they’re on track to open production facilities this year.

Abengoa Bioenergy, POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels and DuPont have invested millions of dollars in facilities that would convert post-harvest corn debris into cellulosic ethanol. The first to come online will likely be Abengoa’s biorefinery in Kansas, capable of producing 25 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol a year, company representatives say.”I’m pretty confident 2014 is going to be a banner year for cellulosic ethanol,” said Christopher Standlee, Abengoa’s executive vice president of global affairs, at a Washington, D.C., event yesterday.

There’s a saying about cellulosic ethanol being always five years away. The industry wants to change that in 2014.

The 2007 renewable fuel standard, which required refiners to use both conventional ethanol and advanced biofuel, prompted the push for cellulosic ethanol, but the industry has failed to meet the standard’s lofty targets.

Abengoa plans to open its facility near the end of May or beginning of June, according to Standlee. POET-DSM, a joint venture spearheaded by the largest U.S. ethanol producer, will likely follow in the end of June with its own 25-million-gallon plant in Iowa, said Doug Berven, the company’s vice president of corporate affairs.

DuPont has not given an expected start but will start making fuel by the end of the year at a 30-million-gallon facility, also in Iowa, said Aaron Whitesel, Dupont’s senior manager of government affairs.

All three companies plan to license their technology once their first plants are completed.

Quad County Corn Processors, a small ethanol producer in Iowa, is also planning to produce cellulosic fuel in the coming months from corn kernel fiber, a part of the corn plant that is left over after conventional ethanol production. Quad County has developed a bolt-on technology that can be added to existing ethanol plants.

But while company representatives say they are optimistic this year, they all raised doubts about their ability to expand cellulosic ethanol production in the United States.

The companies say that U.S. EPA’s November proposal to lower the 2014 biofuel blending requirements for the first time since the RFS was put into place has dampened enthusiasm among investors and shareholders (E&ENews PM, Nov. 15, 2013).

“Our confidence level is high that we can make this work,” Berven said. “The one thing that will stifle that is if there isn’t a market for our product.”