Cellulosic Ethanol Companies
There are almost a dozen companies racing to build the first next-generation cellulosic ethanol plants in the United States over the next few years. The plants will be built all over the U.S. and will churn out biofuels made from waste, plant byproducts and woody energy crops. It’s no easy task. Not only do these companies have to build pilot and demo plants, but ultimately large-scale, commercialized refineries that can take years to construct and require hundreds of millions of investment dollars.
Verenium: The company is in the final stages of testing and evaluating its demo facility, which can produce 1.4 million gallons per year. Construction on the pilot plant began in February 2007. Japanese companies Marubeni and Tsukishima Kikai used Verenium’s technology to build a demo project that can produce 1.3 million liters (less than 350,000 gallons) per year in January 2007 in Osaka, Japan, with plans to scale it up to 4 million liters per year in 2008. The company is currently on track to start construction of a 30 million-gallon-per-year commercial U.S. plant in mid-2009.
Coskata: The company is currently producing cellulosic ethanol in its labs and plans to scale up a pilot project in Madison, Penn., to a 40,000-gallon-per-year demonstration facility that will start delivering ethanol by early 2009 and is projected to cost $25 million to build. Coskata says it’s working on a 100 million-gallon-per-year facility, in an undisclosed U.S. location, that it hopes will go online by early 2011. The startup has raised almost $30 million from Globespan Capital Partners, GM, Khosla Ventures, GreatPoint Ventures and Advanced Technology Ventures. Coskata’s technology first gasifies biomass into syngas and then adds proprietary microbes that turn the syngas into ethanol.
Range Fuels: Range Fuels has been testing its technology in pilot-scale units for the past seven years. The company began construction in November 207 of its first 20 million-gallon-per-year phase of a commercial ethanol plant in Soperton, Ga., with plans to finish sometime in 2009. The plant is supposed to scale up to 100 million gallons per year. The startup has raised over $130 million from Passport Capital, BlueMountain, Khosla Ventures, Leaf Clean Energy Company and Pacific Capital Group Range Fuel’s technology uses a thermochemical process to turn biomass into synthetic gas and then fuel.
POET: POET is a longtime corn ethanol producers that will be using its existing infrastructure to move into cellulosic ethanol production. The company is expanding its 50 million-gallon-per-year corn-based ethanol facility in Emmetsburg, Iowa, to include a cellulosic plant. The entire plant will produce 125 million gallons per year, 25 million of those for cellulosic ethanol. Construction on the cellulosic ethanol plant is scheduled to start in 2009 and be done in 2011. The DOE selected POET to receive up to $80 million in funds for its cellulosic ethanol plant. The plant will convert corn cobs and fiber from the kernel into cellulosic ethanol.
DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol LLC: The joint venture plans to have its first pilot plant online by 2009 and its first full-scale commercial demonstration plant operational by 2012. The companies plan to invest $70 million each over the next three years. The technology will use DuPont’s proprietary pretreatment and ethanologen technologies and Genencor’s enzymatic hydrolysis methods. The JV will initially target corn stover and sugar cane bagasse as feedstocks.
Mascoma: Mascoma and the University of Tennessee are jointly building a switchgrass-fed demo refinery in Monroe County, Tenn., that will produce 5 million gallons per year and will be operational in 2009. The company also started construction on a pilot plant in Rome, N.Y., in 2006. In addition, Mascoma is looking to build a commercial-scale biorefinery using wood as a feedstock, to be located in Michigan, and is working with Michigan State University and Michigan Technological University.
ZeaChem: The company has a test facility at its headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., where it says it has successfully brewed its first liter of ethanol from poplar trees. ZeaChem is working with forest manager GreenWood Resources to build a 1.5 million gallons a year test facility near Portland, Ore. The startup received $4 million in funding last summer from Mohr Davidow Ventures. Firelake Capital is also an investor. The company’s technology converts fermentable sugars into acetate and then gasifies the remainder, tough lignin and all, into hydrogen before mixing the two streams in a reaction called hydrogenolysis to produce ethanol.
SunEthanol: The company says it aims to have a pilot plant in operation in 2009 and is reportedly also building a 2.5 million-gallon-per-year demonstration facility. Update: SunEthanol’s former CEO Jef Sharp tells us that the company is working with ICM to build the demo plant, and is also planning a commercial scale plant that a yet-undisclosed partner will build.
Investors include VeraSun, Battery Ventures, Camros Capital LLC and LongRiver Ventures. The U.S. Department of Energy recently awarded SunEthanol a $100,000 research grant. The company uses the “Q Microbe” for its “C3 process,” which does the ethanol conversion of hydrolysis and fermentation in one step.
BlueFire Ethanol: The company is working on a 3.1 million-gallon-per-year cellulosic ethanol facility that will be delivered in a joint effort with contractors MECS and Brinderson and located at a Lancaster, Calif., landfill. BlueFire is also working with the DOE on a second facility that will convert waste from landfills into roughly 17 million gallons of fuel-grade ethanol per year. BlueFire confirmed with us that that DOE plant is still on track.
Abengoa Bioenergy: Owned by Spanish engineering company Abengoa, the company opened a pilot plant in York, Neb., in October 2007, which cost some $35 million to build. Abengoa plans to spend $300 million to build a cellulosic ethanol production plant in Hugoton, Kan., which will produce 49 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year. The company also got a $76 million grant from the DOE to help fund a project in Colwich, Kansas, that the DOE said will produce 11.4 million gallons per year.
Iogen: The Canadian company is planning on building a cellulosic ethanol refinery in Saskatchewan that has now entered the due diligence process. Iogen is one of six companies that could receive money from the DOE to build U.S. biorefinery plants. Iogen has proposed a plant in Shelley, Idaho, near Idaho Falls, that will produce 18 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually.