A shift in biofuel production to cellulosic biofuels is underway as both demonstration and commercial-scale power plants are opening or moving closer to completion. In the commercial arena, Poet, the largest U.S. producer of ethanol, is planning construction this year of Project Liberty, a cellulosic ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa, that will use corn cobs from local farms to produce 25 million gallon per year of ethanol. The plant will be co-located with Poet’s current corn grain ethanol plant at the Emmetsburg site and should start commercial operations in 2011. DOE has provided $80 million in funding for the facility, and in late January, the Iowa Department of Economic Development approved a $5.25 million grant, bringing Iowa’s total contribution to $20 million. Poet’s pilot-scale plant in Scotland, South Dakota, is already producing cellulosic ethanol at a rate of about 20,000 gallons per year and has successfully driven the cost of ethanol down from $4.13 per gallon to $2.35 per gallon, as the company aims for a commercial cost below $2 per gallon.
Meanwhile, Abengoa Bioenergy is planning to develop the nation’s first commercial-scale hybrid cellulosic ethanol and power plant in Stevens County, Kansas. The $550 million facility is expected to produce 15 million gallons of ethanol annually using corn stover, wheat straw, and switchgrass as feedstock. In January, Abengoa Bioenergy signed an agreement to sell 75 megawatts of power from the facility to Mid-Kansas Electric Company LLC. The new cellulosic ethanol facilities will be essential to meet the newly revised Renewable Fuel Standard, which sets a federal requirement for the sale of 6.5 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol over the course of this year. That requirement will ramp up to 16 billion gallons by 2022.
Two demonstration-scale plants have recently started up. Last October, Coskata Inc., a developer of biofuels, announced the launch of their semi-commercial cellulosic ethanol facility located in Madison, Pennsylvania. Coskata’s facility will be producing ethanol from numerous feedstocks, including wood biomass, agricultural waste, sustainable energy crops, and construction waste. And on January 29, DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol LLC (DDCE) and University of Tennessee/Genera Energy LLC celebrated the grand opening of their first cellulosic ethanol demonstration plant, which converts both agricultural residue and bioenergy crops into ethanol. The facility, located in Vonore, Tennessee, was producing ethanol in mid-January and has the capacity to produce 250,000 gallons of ethanol per year from corn cobs and switchgrass. The company intends to achieve commercial production by 2012.