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Published on January 9th, 2009 | by Nick Chambers

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First Cellulosic Ethanol Plant in USA Up and Running


After a $90 million shot in the arm from oil giant BP back in August, second generation cellulosic ethanol pioneer Verenium has started production of ethanol from non-food sources such as wood chips, grass straw, and trash at their Jennings Louisiana demonstration plant (PDF). This is the first such plant to begin operation in the US.

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As most of the first generation corn ethanol world has started to exit stage left in a loud and raucous way, the pioneers of second generation cellulosic ethanol — what I like to call “celluline” — have been quietly conducting dress rehearsals for their grand entrance.

And now the world of cellulosic ethanol has an honest-to-goodness demonstration plant to prove that it works. The plant will produce 1.4 million gallons of ethanol a year. Although it’s not at the commercial scale yet (60+ MGY), this represents a huge leap forward for second generation ethanol, which to this point has been full of promises but lacking on deliverables.

In the past, Verenium has claimed to have the edge in cellulosic ethanol production through genetic engineering of the microbes required to turn the cellulosic material (switchgrass, wood chips, sugarcane bagasse, miscanthus) into ethanol.

They also claim to have developed specialized enzymes that speed the ethanol-making process along. As Verenium points out, enzymes are important to the cellulosic ethanol process in the same way that spark plugs are important to igniting fuel in your engine.

According to the Renewable Fuels Association, there are around a dozen second generation cellulosic ethanol demonstration plants that will be opening the USA between now and 2012. As we reported back in April, Range Fuels plans on opening the first commercial scale cellulosic plant in Georgia by the end of 2009.

Finally it seems that cellulosic ethanol is ready to start proving that it’s not just talk.

Image Credit: Verenium

Source: USA Today




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  • Bill Brand

    The race is definitely on for second generation ethanol. There are there distinct approaches – 1) enzymatic reduction/fermentation (verenium), 2) Pyloric reduction/ chemical reconstruction (Range), and 3) gasification reduction/ fermentation. In my opinion the third has the most potential and the stealth player in this area is Coskata. Their commercial demonstration plant outside of Pitsburg will be opening soon. Enzyme costs remain high adversely affecting the first method. The second requires high energy inputs. The third has no enzymes and, once started, generates excess heat which can be used for electrical generation. In addition, presently the only non-agriculture commodity source of biomass is Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) which presently has a negative value. This highly varied biomass can best be used in a heat reduction process like Coskata’s.

  • Bill Brand

    The race is definitely on for second generation ethanol. There are there distinct approaches – 1) enzymatic reduction/fermentation (verenium), 2) Pyloric reduction/ chemical reconstruction (Range), and 3) gasification reduction/ fermentation. In my opinion the third has the most potential and the stealth player in this area is Coskata. Their commercial demonstration plant outside of Pitsburg will be opening soon. Enzyme costs remain high adversely affecting the first method. The second requires high energy inputs. The third has no enzymes and, once started, generates excess heat which can be used for electrical generation. In addition, presently the only non-agriculture commodity source of biomass is Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) which presently has a negative value. This highly varied biomass can best be used in a heat reduction process like Coskata’s.

  • Steve-O

    Although I wish I was, I am no scientist and know little of the processes. I do know, however, that alcohol is an awesome fuel, regardless of what some others may like people to believe.

    Now, with this technology ramping up, whatever the process it’s probably better than corn. So I am pumped, and really hope that people get it…we NEED TO DISPLACE PETROLEUM USE as much as possible.

    Let’s emulate Brazil and make our FFVs work from E10 to E100. Let’s all who can use ethanol (Don’t get me wrong, I am all for you using gasoline if you really like it better), and let’s move from “allowing” E10 for all cars to “allowing” E15 or E20. We can displace a whole lot of that foriegn crap called oil we love to burn so much! At least we can begin making a significant dent.

  • Steve-O

    Although I wish I was, I am no scientist and know little of the processes. I do know, however, that alcohol is an awesome fuel, regardless of what some others may like people to believe.

    Now, with this technology ramping up, whatever the process it’s probably better than corn. So I am pumped, and really hope that people get it…we NEED TO DISPLACE PETROLEUM USE as much as possible.

    Let’s emulate Brazil and make our FFVs work from E10 to E100. Let’s all who can use ethanol (Don’t get me wrong, I am all for you using gasoline if you really like it better), and let’s move from “allowing” E10 for all cars to “allowing” E15 or E20. We can displace a whole lot of that foriegn crap called oil we love to burn so much! At least we can begin making a significant dent.

  • Michael Bryant

    is this process any cheaper that Ft process?

  • Michael Bryant

    is this process any cheaper that Ft process?

  • http://GlobalPatriot.com Global Patriot

    This is encouraging news, as using “food” to produce energy has inherent limitations for scalability. While it is imperative that we find alternatives to oil, those options must be sustainable and friendly to the environment.

    Balancing all aspects of the process, from the creation of feed stock to the creation of fuel products, an understanding of the effects on the land, water and air is fundamental to making the right choice with regard to alternative energy solutions.

  • http://GlobalPatriot.com Global Patriot

    This is encouraging news, as using “food” to produce energy has inherent limitations for scalability. While it is imperative that we find alternatives to oil, those options must be sustainable and friendly to the environment.

    Balancing all aspects of the process, from the creation of feed stock to the creation of fuel products, an understanding of the effects on the land, water and air is fundamental to making the right choice with regard to alternative energy solutions.

  • http://www.sterlingpr.com marianne oconnor

    Cellulosic ethanol is definitely starting to become real, and not just in the US. There’s a company in Canada called Iogen that’s already started delivering cellulosic ethanol to Shell in Sept.

    For anyone who’s interested, here’s the link to an article from RenewableEnergyWorld.com that talks about what Canada has on tap for bioenergy development. http://is.gd/ffZj

  • http://www.sterlingpr.com marianne oconnor

    Cellulosic ethanol is definitely starting to become real, and not just in the US. There’s a company in Canada called Iogen that’s already started delivering cellulosic ethanol to Shell in Sept.

    For anyone who’s interested, here’s the link to an article from RenewableEnergyWorld.com that talks about what Canada has on tap for bioenergy development. http://is.gd/ffZj

  • http://www.cleanfutureenergy.com/ Clean Future Energy

    Whilst I think it is great news that the technology now seems to exist to replace the wasteful corn based process, I take issue with the comment of Steve O.

    Ethanol is a second rate fuel for two important reasons. Its energy intensity is significantly below that of gasoline, meaning that it does less miles per gallon. Secondly it absorbs water, with predictable results.

    These do not mean that it shouldn’t be used, but suggest that one day it may be superceeded by Butanol or some other better alternative.

  • http://www.cleanfutureenergy.com/ Clean Future Energy

    Whilst I think it is great news that the technology now seems to exist to replace the wasteful corn based process, I take issue with the comment of Steve O.

    Ethanol is a second rate fuel for two important reasons. Its energy intensity is significantly below that of gasoline, meaning that it does less miles per gallon. Secondly it absorbs water, with predictable results.

    These do not mean that it shouldn’t be used, but suggest that one day it may be superceeded by Butanol or some other better alternative.

  • Steve-O

    I have heard little about bio-butanol. can be made from the same diverse sources of biomass, or even trash, as cellulosic ethanol? Yes, ethanol does get less MPG, but it is cleaner, plants used to produce it take in CO2, it’s doemstic, and it isn’t oil. Do Brazillian vehicles wear out because of this water thing you’re talking about? I have not read that. In addition, I have read that engines burning 100% ethanol are clean, and run for hundreds of thousands of miles because of no sludge isnide the engine, valves, and rings.

  • Steve-O

    I have heard little about bio-butanol. can be made from the same diverse sources of biomass, or even trash, as cellulosic ethanol? Yes, ethanol does get less MPG, but it is cleaner, plants used to produce it take in CO2, it’s doemstic, and it isn’t oil. Do Brazillian vehicles wear out because of this water thing you’re talking about? I have not read that. In addition, I have read that engines burning 100% ethanol are clean, and run for hundreds of thousands of miles because of no sludge isnide the engine, valves, and rings.

  • CNCMike

    I’ll be glad when the “worse mileage from ethanol” myth dies once and for all. If you burn ethanol in an engine built for gas you will get lower mileage. If you build ethanol specific engines with high compression (13:1 or even 14:1) and cam profiles ground and timed for ethanol you will get at least 15 to 20% better mileage than a gas engine.

    Don’t believe that myth about water damaging engines either. There are a lot of cars on the road using water injection systems right now for various reasons. I use to inject water right into the carb on my 70 Chevell when the octane levels dropped and detonation became a problem.

  • CNCMike

    I’ll be glad when the “worse mileage from ethanol” myth dies once and for all. If you burn ethanol in an engine built for gas you will get lower mileage. If you build ethanol specific engines with high compression (13:1 or even 14:1) and cam profiles ground and timed for ethanol you will get at least 15 to 20% better mileage than a gas engine.

    Don’t believe that myth about water damaging engines either. There are a lot of cars on the road using water injection systems right now for various reasons. I use to inject water right into the carb on my 70 Chevell when the octane levels dropped and detonation became a problem.

  • Bill Brand

    Clean future energy is wrong in his assessment of ethanol. CNC Mike is right but needs to update his engine facts. Steve-O is right that ethanol is superior, but E15 -E20 is not the right blends. Butanol is out there as a possible biofuel alcohol, but what is pushed as its advantage is that is performs ‘just like gasoline’ which isn’t that great. The only significance of energy density that ‘Clean Energy’ speaks about is to compare pricing alternatives and suggests maybe our cars need a bit larger gas tank. An 18:1 compression ratio ( or appropriately turbo charged) spark ignition vehicle will get 50% better thermal efficiency than gasoline in our present vehicles. Its 2/3 energy density of gasoline when boosted 50% for better thermal efficiency results in the same MPG but produces significantly less CO2. This is also true compared to Butanol but Butanol as a 4 carbon fuel will produce less CO2 than gasoline but more that the 2 carbon ethanol. Our immediate fuel protocol should be E23 – E30 or a bit more which is the ‘sweet spot’ for ethanol blends as this blending makes gasoline burn more completely and can result in a MPG up to 15% greater than gasoline. This can be achieved with any existing computer controlled fuel injection vehicle (almost anything out there that is still running) with minor computer tuning and other minor modifications. It is not just BTU’s per gallon that determine a superior fuel, but factors like Reid vapor pressure, octane, rate of flame spread, and latent heat of evaporation all of which determine the potential EFFICIENCY of the fuel. When the right relation of these factors are found in a 2 carbon fuel like ethanol, I say it is a superior fuel.

  • Bill Brand

    Clean future energy is wrong in his assessment of ethanol. CNC Mike is right but needs to update his engine facts. Steve-O is right that ethanol is superior, but E15 -E20 is not the right blends. Butanol is out there as a possible biofuel alcohol, but what is pushed as its advantage is that is performs ‘just like gasoline’ which isn’t that great. The only significance of energy density that ‘Clean Energy’ speaks about is to compare pricing alternatives and suggests maybe our cars need a bit larger gas tank. An 18:1 compression ratio ( or appropriately turbo charged) spark ignition vehicle will get 50% better thermal efficiency than gasoline in our present vehicles. Its 2/3 energy density of gasoline when boosted 50% for better thermal efficiency results in the same MPG but produces significantly less CO2. This is also true compared to Butanol but Butanol as a 4 carbon fuel will produce less CO2 than gasoline but more that the 2 carbon ethanol. Our immediate fuel protocol should be E23 – E30 or a bit more which is the ‘sweet spot’ for ethanol blends as this blending makes gasoline burn more completely and can result in a MPG up to 15% greater than gasoline. This can be achieved with any existing computer controlled fuel injection vehicle (almost anything out there that is still running) with minor computer tuning and other minor modifications. It is not just BTU’s per gallon that determine a superior fuel, but factors like Reid vapor pressure, octane, rate of flame spread, and latent heat of evaporation all of which determine the potential EFFICIENCY of the fuel. When the right relation of these factors are found in a 2 carbon fuel like ethanol, I say it is a superior fuel.

  • Pingback: Biofuel Industry Hopes to Recover with Next Generation Fuels : Gas 2.0

  • http://www.procazucar.com.mx Federico López-Medel

    What shall I do to visit your ethanol plant? If is possible please sends the requirements.

    Regards

    Federico López-Medel

  • http://www.procazucar.com.mx Federico López-Medel

    What shall I do to visit your ethanol plant? If is possible please sends the requirements.

    Regards

    Federico López-Medel

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