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  • [ November 14, 2013 ]
  • Despite rocky start, cellulosic ethanol industry close to commercialization

BY LIZ ZABEL | IOWA ENERGY CENTER
The cellulosic ethanol industry is showing growth that could make 2014 a very big year for the industry. In fact, three new ethonal plants are currently under construction, including the DuPont plant in Nevada, Iowa, the POET plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa, and the Abengoa bioenergy plant in Hugoton, Kansas. Another facility, Quad County Corn Processors in Galva, Iowa is adding on a cellulosic feature to its current plant. Each of the facilities is expected to open within the next year.

Corn-based ethanol makes up nearly 10 percent of domestic fuel and has been in large-scale production for years. But concern over rising corn prices caused lawmakers to cap the production of corn-based ethanol. This is where “advanced” biofuels entered the picture. These biofuels could be produced from corn husks, switch grass, wood chips and much more. After capping the production of corn-based ethanol, lawmakers required this “cellulosic” material produce 16 billion gallons by 2022.

Iowa State University researchers have been working on developing ways to best harvest corn stocks and other feedstocks to make cellulosic ethanol, such as how much stover should be removed or how best to package and move the corn stalks.

Corn stover is the most economically feasible path for this part of the country because farmers already produce it, reducing barriers of transportation and supply issues.

The Abengoa plant will use wheat straw as their feedstock and expects to produce 25 million gallons per year, while the Quad County Corn Processors will use corn kernel fiber. The POET and DuPont facilities will use corn stover, be similar in size, and work with farmers within 35 miles of their plants to avoid transportation and storage issues. The two facilities are not the same, however.

POET’s facility in Emmetsburg, having receieved $100 million in Department of Energy (DOE) grants and $20 million in incentives from the state of Iowa, will convert ethanol from biomass through “add-ons” to existing corn-ethanol plants throughout the Midwest. The process will not only produce approximately 20 million gallons of ethanol per year, but also water and lignin to provide power to the facility.

The DuPont plant in Nevada will work closely with Lincolnway Energy to be a “bio-solution company,” according to John Pieper, stover feedstock workstream leader for DuPont. The company is more interested in licensing biomass-production than building its own, but will use the stover to produce approximately 30 million gallons of ethanol per year.

Cellulosic ethanol plants have been falling short of expectations, however. Refiners were expected to mix about one billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol into fuel this year, but production has not been as successful as predicted. According to the Washington Post, most cellulosic ethanol “contenders” have gone out of business, primarily due to the “economic slowdown,” costs of enzymes, and the collection of “bulky raw materials.”

The Environmental Protection Agency reduced the cellulosic ethanol quota through the Renewable Fuel Standard this year first to 14 million gallons, then to 6 million, as well as extending the deadline for compliance.

Regardless of the opening of these three plants, U.S. cellulosic ethanol output will hardly compare to the vast amount of gasoline used in the nation. Together, they would produce approximately 4,900 barrels a day, which is less than 0.06 percent of U.S. consumption. But eventually, these companies are determiend to capture at least 10 percent of the U.S. motor fuel market.

Source:
Cellulosic ethanol comes of age in 2014, Iowa Farmer Today
Why hasn’t cellulosic ethanol taken over, like it was supposed to?, Washington Post
Cellulosic ethanol, once the way of the future, is off to a delayed, boisterous start, Washington Post

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