Status for the commercial production of cellulosic ethanol in the world.

Cellulosic ethanol, the process that people used to joke was always five years in the future, has become a commercial reality. There are currently 5 major commercial cellulosic ethanol plants that are already on production or will be this year: Abengoa, Dupont, GranBio, Beta Renewables-Novozymes (BR-NZ) and Poet-DSM. The following table describes the 5 plants that produce at least 20 million of gallons per year (MGY) that are operational or close to be:

ABENGOA **25.0USA500.0

*CAPEX information as stated in the web. The data has to taken with caution because it includes the cost of the energy plants in two cases below.
** The cost includes 25 million gallons ethanol facility plus 21 Megawatts energy plant.
*** The cost includes $175 MM for the plant and 90 MM for the Energy co-generation plant

Some other companies that are planning or are in the process of constructing commercial cellulosic ethanol plants (at least 10 MGY) include Raizen-Iogen and CTC (Centro de Tecnologia Canavieria) both in Brazil.

Cellulosic ethanol news: A new world player comes online for the production of cellulosic ethanol at commercial scale. (Modified from Biofuels Digest)

GranBio has recently joined Abengoa, Novozymes, Dupont and Poet-DSM as a commercial producer of second-generation ethanol. GranBio plant will be the first in Brazil and in the Southern Hemisphere. The Bioflex 1, unit built in São Miguel dos Campos, Alagoas, has an initial production capacity of 82 million liters of ethanol per year (21.6 million US gallons). GranBio invested US$190 million to build the plant and US$75 million on the steam and electricity co-generation system, the latter investment along with the Carlos Lyra Group’s Caeté facility. Construction was completed in 20 months, quick as compared to any other undertaking of its size, and was managed by GranEnergia, a company also controlled by GranInvestimentos S.A.

The 2G ethanol produced by GranBio is the cleanest fuel produced on a commercial scale in the world in carbon intensity – 7.55 gCO2/MJ, as confirmed by the Air Resources Board in California. No other fuel produced on a large scale is better for the environment and reversing climate change than that of GranBio, the first producer of 2G ethanol to have the carbon footprint approved by the American agency.

The 2G ethanol makes it possible to increase Brazilian production capacity per acre by 50% using agricultural waste – straw and bagasse, without need of expanding the cane fields. GranBio developed a system to harvest, store and process 400,000 metric tons of straw per year for Bioflex 1, which places it among the world’s largest and most competitive. GranBio’s facility uses the PROESA pre-treatment technology from the Italian company BetaRenewables (a company in the M&G Group), enzymes from Novozymes in Denmark, and yeast from DSM in Holland.

Reaction from the principals

“When we announced the construction of the plant in Alagoas, in mid-2012, we took the risk of an innovator and pioneer in a project with transformative potential for the biofuels and biochemicals industries,” said GranBio’s president, Bernardo Gradin. “Beyond the inauguration of a plant, this project is proof that Brazil can lead the global biotech industry based on its agricultural potential,” he added. No kidding, contrast that with the five- and six-year journeys for some projects from their first announcement to mechanical completion. It’s been stealthy if only because it is not an easy project for media to get to – in the Northeast region of Brazil, in the historic heartland of the sugarcane industry as opposed to the vast plantations that have been established to the south in Sao Paulo state and Minas Gerais — and it is in the south that most cooperative activity between US or European technologies and Brazilian ethanol interests have been situated.

The power equation

GranBio and Caeté, from the group Carlos Lyra, created a partnership for the integrated production of steam and electricity. Installed next to Bioflex 1, the co-generation system is fed by sugarcane bagasse and lignin – a byproduct of producing second-generation ethanol. This is an unprecedented bioenergy solution in Brazil, the first time lignin is being used to this purpose in the sugar-based alcohol industry. The companies’ combined investment was US$75 million.

The boiler of the cogeneration system will remain in operation for eleven months of the year, or eight thousand hours, in the harvest and inter-harvest period at the Caeté plant. As such, beyond meeting the needs of the two plants, the boiler will generate excess electricity on order of 135,000 MWh/year – enough to power a city of 300,000 inhabitants – which will be sold and become a source of revenue for the companies.

The investment in bioenergy reinforces an irreversible trend in the Brazilian energy market. In addition to being an alternative to meet Brazilian demand, generating energy with wastes previously left on the ground considerably reduces environmental CO2 emissions.