Cellulosic ethanol commercialization is the process of building an industry out of methods of turning cellulose-containing organic matter into cellulosic ethanol for use as a biofuel. Companies, such as Iogen, POET, DuPont, and Abengoa, are building refineries that can process biomass and turn it into bioethanol. Companies, such as Diversa, Novozymes, and Dyadic, are producing enzymes that could enable a cellulosic ethanol future. The shift from food crop feedstocks to waste residues and native grasses offers significant opportunities for a range of players, from farmers to biotechnology firms, and from project developers to investors. As of 2013, the first commercial-scale plants to produce cellulosic biofuels have begun operating. Multiple pathways for the conversion of different biofuel feedstocks are being used. In the next few years, the cost data of these technologies operating at commercial scale, and their relative performance, will become available. Lessons learnt will lower the costs of the industrial processes involved.
Cellulosic ethanol can be produced from a diverse array of feedstocks, such as wood pulp from trees or any plant matter. Instead of taking the grain from wheat and grinding that down to get starch and gluten, then taking the starch, cellulosic ethanol production involves the use of the whole crop. This approach should increase yields and reduce the carbon footprint because the amount of energy-intensive fertilisers and fungicides will remain the same, for a higher output of usable material.
In Canada, Iogen Corporation is a developer of cellulosic ethanol process technology. Iogen has developed a proprietary process and operates a demonstration-scale plant in Ontario. The facility has been designed and engineered to process 40 tons of wheat straw per day into ethanol using enzymes made in an adjacent enzyme manufacturing facility. In 2004, Iogen began delivering its first shipments of cellulosic ethanol into the marketplace. In the near term, the company intends to commercialize its cellulose ethanol process by licensing its technology broadly through turnkey plant construction partnerships. The company is currently evaluating sites in the United States and Canada for its first commercial-scale plant.
Lignol Innovations has a pilot plant, which uses wood as a feedstock, in Vancouver.
In March 2009, KL Energy Corporation of South Dakota and Prairie Green Renewable Energy of Alberta announced their intention to develop a cellulosic ethanol plant near Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan. The Northeast Saskatchewan Renewable Energy Facility will use KL Energy’s modern design and engineering to produce ethanol from wood waste.
Cellulosic ethanol production currently exists at "pilot" and "commercial demonstration" scale, including a plant in China engineered by SunOpta Inc. and owned and operated by China Resources Alcohol Corporation that is currently producing cellulosic ethanol from corn stover (stalks and leaves) on a continuous, 24-hour-per-day basis.
Inbicon's bioethanol plant in Kalundborg, with the capacity to produce 5.4 million liters (1.4 million gallons) annually, was opened in 2009. Believed to be the world's largest cellulosic ethanol plant as of early 2011, the facility runs on about 30,000 metric tons (33,000 tons) of straw per year and the plant employs about 30 people. The plant also produces 13,000 metric tons of lignin pellets per year, used as fuel at combined-heat-and-power plants, and 11,100 metric tons of C5 molasses which is currently used for biomethane production via anaerobic digestion, and has been tested as a high carbohydrate animal feed supplement and potential bio-based feedstock for production of numerous commodity chemicals including diols, glycols, organic acids, and biopolymer precursors and intermediates.
Since October 2010, an E5 blend of 95% gasoline and 5% cellulosic ethanol blend has been available at 100 filling stations across Denmark. Distributed by Statoil, the Bio95 2G mixture uses ethanol derived from wheat straw collected on Danish fields after harvest and produced by Inbicon (a div. of DONG Energy), using enzyme technology from Novozymes.
|Biogasol||Bornholm||Wheat straw||5 megalitre||2012|
|Ensted-værket||Aabenraa||Wheat straw||? megalitre||2013|
|Inbicon owned by Dong Energy||Kalundborg, Zealand||Wheat straw||5.4 megalitre||2009|
|Maabjerg Energy Concept owned by Dong Energy||Maabjerg||Wheat straw||50-70 megalitre||Canceled 2016|
The biofuel company Butalco has recently signed a research and development contract with Hohenheim University. The Institute of Fermentation Technology within the Department of Food Science and Biotechnology at Hohenheim University has been concerned with questions on the production of bioethanol for almost 30 years. The focus in recent years has been on the improvement of the material, energy and life cycle assessment of the production of ethanol. Special interest to BUTALCO is the use of the newly built pilot plant, which is equipped with a safety class 1 approved fermentation room with 4 x 1.5 m³ fermenters. The concept of the plant allows both starch and lignocellulosic based raw materials to be processed. The collaboration will allow BUTALCO to optimise its C5 sugar fermenting and butanol producing yeast strains on a technical scale and produce first amounts of bioethanol from lignocellulose. The whole process of the production of biofuel from the choice of cellulosic biomass feedstock to the conversion into sugars and fermentation through to the purification will be optimised under industrial conditions.
In Straubing, the specialty chemicals company Clariant has been operating a precommercial plant based on its sunliquid process since 2012. The plant is able to produce up to 1000 tons of cellulosic ethanol from agricultural residues such as wheat straw, corn stover or sugarcane bagasse. The process technology uses enzymatic hydrolysis, followed by fermentation of C5 and C6 sugar into ethanol. The company plans to licence the technology worldwide.
Cellulosic ethanol production currently exists at "pilot" scale, with efforts being made on utilization of waste lignocellulosic biomass for ethanol production. Pilot scale studies for utilization of pine needles and Lantana weed undertaken at Cellulose and Paper Division, Forest Research Institute, Dehradun, India.
Italy-based Mossi & Ghisolfi Group broke ground for its 13 million US gallons (49,000 m3) per year cellulosic ethanol facility in Crescentino in northwestern Italy on April 12, 2011. The project will be the largest cellulosic ethanol project in the world, 10 times larger than any of the currently operating demonstration-scale facilities. The plant is "expected to become operational in 2012 and will use a variety of locally sourced feedstocks, beginning with wheat straw and Arundo donax, a perennial giant cane". The company went to bankruptcy on 2018 and had to auction the plant. 
Nippon Oil Corporation and other Japanese manufacturers including Toyota Motor Corporation plan to set up a research body to develop cellulose-derived biofuels. The consortium plans to produce 250,000 kilolitres (1.6 million barrels) per year of bioethanol by March 2014, and produce bioethanol at 40 yen ($0.437) per litre (about $70 a barrel) by 2015.
In March 2009, Honda Motor announced an agreement for the construction of a new cellulosic ethanol research facility in Japan. The new Kazusa-branch facility of the Honda Fundamental Technology Research Center will be built within the Kazusa Akademia Park, in Kisarazu, Chiba. Construction is scheduled to begin in April 2009, with the aim to begin operations in November 2009.
In October 2010, Norway-based cellulosic ethanol technology developer Weyland commenced production at its 200,000 liter (approximately 53,000 gallon) pilot-scale facility in Bergen, Norway. The plant will demonstrate the company’s acid hydrolysis production process, paving the way for a commercial-scale project. The company also plans to market its technology worldwide.
A commercial factory converting wood (50% softwood + 50% hardwood) into Ethanol is in operation in Northern Russia, the city of Kirov, since 1972 and is still profitable. As side products the company, Kirov Biochemical Works, is offering dry fodder yeast (20 tons/month) and Lignin. To install equipment for drying and burning Lignin, both fresh and accumulated in the landfill, for steam and electricity, a bank loan of $200 million was recently secured.
Abengoa continues to invest heavily in the necessary technology for bringing cellulosic ethanol to market. Utilizing process and pre-treatment technology from SunOpta Inc., Abengoa is building a 5 million US gallons (19,000 m3) cellulosic ethanol facility in Spain and have recently entered into a strategic research and development agreement with Dyadic International, Inc. (AMEX: DIL), to create new and better enzyme mixtures which may be used to improve both the efficiencies and cost structure of producing cellulosic ethanol.
SEKAB has developed an industrial process for production of ethanol from biomass feed-stocks, including wood chips and sugar cane bagasse. The development work is being carried out at an advanced pilot plant in Örnsköldsvik, and has sparked international interest. The technology will be gradually scaled up to commercial production in a new breed of bio-refineries from 2013 to 2015.
The US government actively supports the development and commercialization of cellulosic ethanol through a variety of mechanisms. In the first decade of the 21st century, a lot of companies announced plans to build commercial cellulosic ethanol plants, but most of those plans eventually fell apart, and many of the small companies went bankrupt. Currently (2016), here are many demonstration plants throughout the country, and handful of commercial-scale plants which are in operation or close to it. With the market for cellulosic ethanol in the United States projected to continue growing in the coming years, the outlook for this industry is good.
The US Federal government is actively promoting the development of ethanol from cellulosic feedstocks as an alternative to conventional petroleum transportation fuels. For example, programs sponsored by U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) include research to develop better cellulose hydrolysis enzymes and ethanol-fermenting organisms, to engineering studies of potential processes, to co-funding initial ethanol from cellulosic biomass demonstration and production facilities. This research is conducted by various national laboratories, including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and Idaho National Laboratory (INL), as well as by universities and private industry. Engineering and construction companies and operating companies are generally conducting the engineering work.
In May 2008, Congress passed a new farm bill that will accelerate the commercialization of advanced biofuels, including cellulosic ethanol. The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 provides for grants covering up to 30% of the cost of developing and building demonstration-scale biorefineries for producing "advanced biofuels," which essentially includes all fuels that are not produced from corn kernel starch. It also allows for loan guarantees of up to $250 million for building commercial-scale biorefineries to produce advanced biofuels.
Using a newly developed tool known as the "Biofuels Deployment Model", Sandia researchers have determined that 21 billion US gallons (79,000,000 m3) of cellulosic ethanol could be produced per year by 2022 without displacing current crops. The Renewable Fuels Standard, part of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, calls for an increase in biofuels production to 36 billion US gallons (140,000,000 m3) a year by 2022.
In January 2011, the USDA approved $405 million in loan guarantees through the 2008 Farm Bill to support the commercialization of cellulosic ethanol at three facilities owned by Coskata, Enerkem and INEOS New Planet BioEnergy. The projects represent a combined 73 million US gallons (280,000 m3) per year production capacity and will begin producing cellulosic ethanol in 2012. The USDA also released a list of advanced biofuel producers who will receive payments to expand the production of advanced biofuels. In July 2011, the US Department of Energy gave in $105 million in loan guarantees to POET for a commercial-scale plant to be built Emmetsburg, Iowa.
The cellulosic ethanol industry in the United States developed some new commercial-scale plants in 2008. Plants totaling 12 million liters (3.17 million gal) per year were operational, and an additional 80 million liters (21.13 million gal.) per year of capacity - in 26 new plants - was under construction. (For comparison the estimated US petroleum consumption for all uses was about 816 million gal/day in 2008.)
|Company||Location||Feedstock||Capacity (million gal/year)||Operated||Type|
|Abengoa Bioenergy||Hugoton, KS||Wheat straw||25 - 30 ||2013 - 2016 (bankrupt)||Commercial|
|American Process, Inc||Alpena, MI||Wood chips||1.0||2012 -||Demonstration|
|BlueFire Ethanol||Fulton, MS||Multiple sources||19 ||Construction halted 2011 ||Commercial|
|Coskata, Inc.||Madison, Pennsylvania||Multiple sources||0.04 ||2009 - 2015||Semi-commercial|
|VERBIO - take over plant from DuPont||Nevada, IA||Corn stover||30||2018 (acquision) ||Semi-Commercial|
|Fulcrum BioEnergy||Reno, NV||Municipal solid waste||10||est. end of 2013||Commercial|
|Gulf Coast Energy||Livingston, AL||Wood waste||0.3 ||before 2008||Demonstration|
|KL Energy Corp.||Upton, WY||Wood waste|
|Mascoma||Kinross, MI||Wood waste||20||Commercial|
|POET LLC||Emmetsburg, IA||Corn stover||20 - 25||Sept. 2014||Commercial|
|POET LLC||Scotland, SD||Corn stover||0.03||2008||Pilot|
Cellulosic ethanol and grain-based ethanol are, in fact, the same product, but many scientists believe cellulosic ethanol production has distinct environmental advantages over grain-based ethanol production. On a life-cycle basis, ethanol produced from agricultural residues or dedicated cellulosic crops has significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions and a higher sustainability rating than ethanol produced from grain.
According to US Department of Energy studies conducted by the Argonne National Laboratory of the University of Chicago, cellulosic ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 85% over reformulated gasoline. By contrast, starch ethanol (e.g., from corn), which usually uses natural gas to provide energy for the process, reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 18% to 29% over gasoline.
Critics such as Cornell University professor of ecology and agriculture David Pimentel and University of California at Berkeley engineer Tad Patzek question the likelihood of environmental, energy, or economic benefits from cellulosic ethanol technology from non-waste.