First-of-its-kind cellulosic ethanol plant opens in Italy

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, October 10, 2013

The world’s first large-scale facility to produce ethanol out of residue left on crop fields and perennial grasses today opened its door in Italy.

The plant built in the countryside outside Crescentino, Italy, will convert wheat straw, rice straw and giant reed — a large grassy crop that grows on marginal lands — into about 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol a year using an enzyme-driven conversion process. Lignin byproducts will be sent to an adjoining power plant, where they’ll be used to generate enough power for the ethanol facility’s operations.

Cellulosic biofuels company Beta Renewables and Danish enzyme manufacturer Novozymes A/S joined forces about a year ago to develop the plant. The companies have spent $200 million on it.

“The opening today presents a leap forward and is truly the beginning of a new era for advanced biofuels,” Peder Holk Nielsen, CEO of Novozymes, said today. “Here, at this plant, enabled by Novozymes’ enzymatic technology, we will turn agricultural waste into millions of liters of low-emission green fuel, proving that cellulosic ethanol is no longer a distant dream. It is here, it is happening, and it is ready for large-scale commercialization.”

In the United States, Poet LLC and DuPont are building commercial-scale cellulosic biofuel plants that will also be able to convert agricultural residue to ethanol. Earlier this year, a Florida plant operated by INEOS Inc. began producing ethanol from waste, while a Mississippi facility belonging to KiOR Inc. began shipping gasoline and diesel produced from woody biomass.

A proposal to use giant reed for biofuel production in North Carolina has spawned controversy because it is considered an invasive plant in some parts of the country (Greenwire, Oct. 23, 2012).