DOE hopes for cellulosic ethanol plant by 2012

Angel White
Associate Editor

HOUSTON, Sept. 29 -- The US Department of Energy is evaluating bids for the first commercial cellulosic ethanol production facility in the US, with hopes that the plant will be in operation in 2012.

This announcement was made Sept. 23 by Alexander Karsner, DOE's assistant secretary for renewable energy, at a conference at Rice University in Houston. Also attending the conference, Biomass to Chemicals and Fuels: Science, Technology, and Public Policy, was Adam Schubert, US product strategy manager for BP PLC subsidiary BP Fuels Management Group, who said BP is collaborating with chemical company DuPont to produce biobutanol.

Along with DOE's bid program, the agency also is offering loan guarantees to encourage the effort toward achieving early commercial use of cellulosic ethanol. Title XVII of the 2005 Energy Policy Act provides the basis of DOE's loan guarantee program.

Karsner said, "Companies must prequalify for this program by mid-2007."

Cellulosic ethanol—produced from nonfood plant material—is not yet commercial due to its production costs, which currently are higher than those of ethanol production from grain.

DOE hopes to drive down the cost of cellulosic ethanol production in the next 6 years to $1.07/gal from $2.25/gal in 2005, Karsner said. "We cannot achieve sustainability until we address profitability," he said.

Karsner said he views the energy solution as a "three-legged stool," with the three legs being research and development, policy, and markets. All three areas, he said, must work together for the solution to stand.

DOE has a goal for the US to produce enough ethanol by 2030 to equal 30% of current transportation fuel demand, he said.

During the week ended Sept. 8, US motor gasoline demand was 10.1 million b/d (OGJ, Sept. 18, 2006, p. 6). US ethanol production at midyear 2006 reached 318,000 b/d, according to the Renewable Fuels Association. Also at midyear, demand for ethanol reached 395,000 b/d, RFA said.

BP, DuPont collaboration
Schubert said BP is working with DuPont to introduce biobutanol into the energy market. Biobutanol is an advanced biofuel produced from the same agricultural feedstocks as ethanol.

Schubert outlined some of the benefits of the biofuel:

-- It can be blended with gasoline at the refinery due to its low vapor pressure.

-- It can use existing fuel infrastructure without the need for major modifications.

-- It has the potential to be used at higher blend concentrations than ethanol in unmodified vehicles.

-- It is less susceptible to separation in water than ethanol-gasoline blends.

According to a BP statement, BP and Dupont are assessing biobutanol's greenhouse gas emissions performance. "Initial indications are that, on the same feedstock basis, biobutanol delivers emissions reductions that are at least as good as ethanol," it said.

BP reported plans to introduce biobutanol as a gasoline biocomponent in the UK in 2007. That report stated that the company is working with Associated British Foods PLC subsidiary British Sugar to convert the country's first ethanol fermentation facility to produce biobuthanol.

Contact Angel White at angelw@ogjonline.com.

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