Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cellulosic Ethanol Becomes a Reality

A cellulosic ethanol biorefinery built to produce 1.4 million gallons of ethanol a year from biomass (agricultural waste, wood chips, recycled paper) will open tomorrow in Jennings, LA. Built by Verenium, based in Cambridge, MA, the plant will make ethanol from agricultural waste left over from processing sugarcane.

While 1.4 million gallons per year is a nice start, this is a proof-of-concept demonstration plant. When Verenium works the bugs out at this scale they will begin construction on a commercial scale plant that will run continuously and produce 20 – 30 million gallons of ethanol per year. The scheduled opening of the Verenium full scale plant is 2009.

The great advantage of cellulosic ethanol is that it doesn’t consume food crops and it doesn’t require agricultural land to produce the feedstock. Food prices are on the increase and people are starving due in part to crops being diverted from the food supply to fuel.

From Technology Review:

Until now, technology for converting nonfood feedstocks into ethanol has been limited to the lab and to small-scale pilot plants that can produce thousands of gallons of ethanol a year. Since these don’t operate continuously, they don’t give an accurate idea of how much it will ultimately cost to produce cellulosic ethanol in a commercial-scale facility.

Almost all ethanol biofuel in the United States is currently made from corn kernels. But the need for cellulosic feedstocks of ethanol has been underscored recently as food prices worldwide have risen sharply, in part because of the use of corn as a source of biofuels. At the same time, the rising cost of corn and gas have begun to make cellulosic ethanol more commercially attractive, says Wallace Tyner, a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University. A new Renewable Fuels Standard, part of an energy bill that became law late last year, mandates the use of 100 million gallons of cellulosic biofuels by 2010, and 16 billion by 2022.

Via: Technology Review

No comments: