According to Ethanol Producer Magazine (EPM), Toronto, Ontario-based SunOpta Inc. has sold a continuous process system for the conversion of biomass-to-ethanol to Dedham, Mass.-based Celunol Corp (formerly BC International). The demonstration plant is scheduled to begin production by spring 2007.
SunOpta’s patented pretreatment and hydrolysis technology will prep and convert sugar cane bagasse and possibly hard wood waste to ethanol at a plant in Jennings, Louisiana. Celunol/BC International has been conducting research and development in Jennings with a small-scale pilot cellulose conversion system at an existing facility where much of the necessary infrastructure is already in place, EPM reports.
The SunOpta-designed system will only produce between 1.5 MMgy and 2 MMgy, and to produce much more than that will depend on Celunol’s downstream capacity and proportion of hardwoods to bagasse used for conversion, according to Murray Burke, vice president and general manager of SunOpta's BioProcessing Group. “We’ve been at this quite a while,” he told EPM, referring to recent conversion systems sales in the Netherlands, Spain and China, along with the 30-plus years Burke and his company have spent working toward developing its cellulose-to-ethanol technologies. The Jennings plant would be the first in the United States to use SunOpta's patented process. “It’s just been kicked to a new level,” Burke said.
BC International was renamed Celunol less than four months ago, Burke explained, and with four new venture capitalists on board the company is financially well-backed. The list of investors includes Vinod Khosla, founder of Sun Microsystems, who has heavily endorsed cellulosic ethanol as key to the future of transport fuels in the United States (and has kicked up quite a lot of controversy in the blogosphere in the process [that's three seperate links]).
The demo system is planned to be on-site in Jennings the first week in February 2007, EPM reports. “Another six to eight weeks after that they’ll be operational,” Burke told EPM, meaning a U.S. commercial demo plant will be producing ethanol from lignocellulosic materials by Spring 2007.
Burke said capital costs are “cut to the bone,” or minimized, when a company can utilize existing infrastructure, as Celunol is doing. The cellulosic ethanol industry is still in its infancy, Burke said, equating it to the starch-based ethanol industry in 1980. “With processes changing so rapidly, should we put large investments in things that are changing so fast?” he asked rhetorically. Companies should make use of infrastructures in place where capital costs can be minimized in order to integrate a cellulosic ethanol industry into commercialization faster and more economically, Burke said.
And so it begins...