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.
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