Plans Underway for Michigan Commerical Scale Cellulosic Ethanol Plant

14 12 2011

New Hampshire based biofuels company, Mascoma Corporation, and Valero Energy Corporation, the nation’s largest oil refiner and frontrunner in ethanol production, have launched a joint venture to build an commercial-sized cellulosic ethanol plant in Michigan’s upper peninsula near Kinross. Within six months the team plans to break ground on the facility and launch by the end of 2013. They’re moving to Michigan after a successful launch of a pilot plant in Rome, NY, which produces cellulosic ethanol from a wide array of feedstocks, including: sugar cane bagasse, grasses, and corn stover.

$50 million in grants from the Department of Energy and the state will help this project get off the ground. Mascoma, cellulosic ethanol, Kinross, Michigan, ValeroThe two firms are excited to create American jobs and help tackle our nation’s energy challenges.

The reason why this new plant is ground-breaking is that while many producers are generating cellulosic-derived biofuels on a small-scale, no  plant exists yet in the states that can produce this product that is feasible at the commercial-scale. Mascoma touts their proprietary technology that can convert wood to ethanol utilizing genetically modified yeasts.

Abengoa: Jack of All Trades

12 11 2011

Abengoa Bioenergy‘s new 23 million-gallon refinery will take biomass feedstocks, such as switchgrass, and generate ethanol for the production of homegrown fuel.  Having already successfully test-driven pilot plants of the same technology, Abengoa is working to extract more useful material from grain and cereal tailings in the form of residual starch.  These residual starches are generally 5% of the entire starch levels in cereals and grains and can be as high as 10%, according to Abengoa Bioenergy.

So, what does this mean for the biofuel/ethanol industry?  More extractable starch = more ethanol.  Abengoa estimates theoretically one could obtain 3.2 gallons of ethanol per bushel of corn.  However, through efficiency losses in the starch extraction processes of current ethanol facilities, the common producer gets 2.6 gallons on average.  With Abengoa’s new technology, we could see this average raise to 2.9 gallons per bushel.  That is about a 10% gain.

Abengoa is also advancing in the study of ethanol co-products.  Primarily, distillers dry grains and solubles or DDGS are of hot topic in the industry.  At the moment, DDGS are mostly given to rumenoids because of their high vegetable content, but Abengoa is working to supplement these co-products and create feeds that are more suitable for poultry and pork stock.  This is done by concentrating the proteins in the DDGS.  This means less waste will come from the ethanol production process, and more money is to be made.

Switchgrass, bioenergy, Abegonea, cellulosic ethanol(Photo)

Lastly, but not least, as if Abengoa didn’t have all of the bases covered already, they are also improving the efficiency of cellulosic ethanol production.  Cellulose, by nature, is much harder to break down than starch and requires the addition of special enzymes in the processing phase.  These enzymes are expensive to create and relatively large doses are needed to bread down the cellulose.  Abengoa is currently studying to increase the effectiveness of these enzymes while driving the cost to produce them down as well.  In other words, a smaller dose will have the same impact as a current dose and will cost less to make.

Quick recap: Abengoa sounds like the Westinghouse of ethanol.  They didn’t start it, but they are sure bringing the best out in it (ethanol in Abengoa’s case, electricity in Westinghouse’s).  They are increasing ethanol yields per bushel by unlocking residual starches; they are expanding the usefulness of DDGS as a feedstock not only for cattle but for pigs and chickens; and they are increasing the efficiency of breaking down cellulose so it can be used to make more ethanol.

Bravo, Abengoa! Bravo!  You get two cobs up!

Need a Last Minute Costume Idea? How About Homegrown Fuel!

31 10 2011

I’m sure you’re probably scrambling to throw together a quick idea for a last minute Halloween costume for some sort of social event. Don’t worry – we’re in the same boat.

Traditionally, scary costumes preside over those deemed ‘cute’ or ‘whimsy.’ Don’t be fooled, however, by this traditional costume stigma; more people are challenging the status quo while not breaking the bank.

Here are some fun ideas that yes, I threw together on the spot (much like you are probably doing at this point on your Hallow’s night):
1) Grab an old t-shirt (preferably yellow) and leftover paint lying around your garage. Draw “E-85” on the shirt. When friends ask you what you are, respond with “money in my pocket when I go to fuel up.” Kidding aside, the yellow shirt would represent the yellow ethanol gas pump.
2) Pin some corn stalks on your head for corn stover. Don’t underestimate the cellulosic potential in which the ethanol industry is expanding.
3) We’ve recently learned that ethanol can be made from not just corn, but other feedstocks such as coffee. Got an old white sweater with a stubborn coffee stain? Wear it with pride and say the eye-sore arrived on your clothing from an unfortunate coffee ethanol manufacturing experiment.
4) Sport a Nascar ethanol racing shirt. Who doesn’t like American muscle and fast cars?
5) As a last minute idea, just wear your regular garb. Keep breathing in deeply every couple minutes and exhaling with a large smile. When people give you odd or perplexed stare, just explain that you’re a happy citizen in a world with decreased smog because everyone drives vehicles run on clean burning fuel.

Family Farm, Boorito, Chipotle, Halloween Costume, Ethanol

Okay, your evening is almost set. What kind of party could you attend dressed up as such a character? That I cannot answer. However, I came across a special that Chipotle is running tonight called BOORITO. Any customer that comes in dressed as a farm-related animal or implement can purchase a giant burrito from 6pm to closing for only $2. Yes, home-grown fuel is definitely farming-related.

This event is sponsored by Farm Aid, a long standing, national organization that benefits family farmers and strengthens America through musical festivals and outreach programs.

Where ever you end up tonight, I hope these costume ideas sparked your creative interest.



Ethanol Producers Eye Homegrown… Trees?

22 10 2011

When we all think of ethanol, we think ‘corn.’ Well, many scientists consider the next frontier of ethanol will include not only corn as the main feedstock, but also corn stover (leftovers such as the stalks) and wood chips.

This process that utilizes the ancillary corn and vegetation products is called cellulosic ethanol.

I recently read an article on Western Farm Press about how a team of researchers at Purdue University are looking into just this. They have several test plots at Purdue and are pursuing a five year study on how trees can produce biomass for cellulosic ethanol. He envisions these agriculture products adding a valuable mix to Indiana’s cash crop portfolio.

The schematic below visually demonstrates the basic steps of how cellulosic ethanol is produced. cellulose, ethanol, production(Picture borrowed from Autogreenblog).

When we usually think of the country, we think corn and fields. What if we added an additional piece to that picture… corn, fields and trees.

cellulosic, ethanol, poplar tree, Indiana, Purdue University