Ethanol’s evolution continued in 2016, as plants across the country adopted new technologies allowing them to process new feedstocks and produce new low-carbon biofuels and bio-products. Quad County Corn Processors near Galva, Iowa – the first plant to produce commercial volumes of cellulosic ethanol from corn kernel fiber – surpassed the 5 million gallon threshold for cellulosic production in September 2016.
Other ethanol producers, including Pacific Ethanol, Little Sioux Corn Processors, and Flint Hills Resources, also adopted “bolt-on” technologies in 2016 that will allow them to produce both starch-based and cellulosic ethanol from the same corn kernel.
Some companies – like Adkins Energy and CHS – used onsite technologies to convert corn distillers oil into biodiesel, an advanced biofuel under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). East Kansas Agri-Energy completed construction on its co-located facility that integrates refining technologies like hydrocracking and isomerization to convert corn distillers oil into renewable diesel and naptha. In Minnesota, Green Biologics finished its conversion of a small corn ethanol plant into a facility producing n-butanol.
Progress toward full commercial production continued at stand-alone cellulosic ethanol facilities owned by DuPont and POET-DSM. DuPont’s facility near Nevada, Iowa has the capacity to produce 30 million gallons (mg) per year, and the POET-DSM plant at Emmetsburg, Iowa has 20 mg of annual capacity.
EPA’s finalization of strong RFS blending requirements for cellulosic and advanced biofuels in 2017 injected some badly needed certainty in the marketplace and restored a positive investment signal. Against that backdrop, 2017 promises to be a big year for cellulosic and advanced biofuels.
What is Advanced and Cellulosic Ethanol?
Cellulose refers to the material comprising the cell walls of any green plant and is the most common organic compound found on earth. Cellulosic ethanol is ethanol produced by turning the sugars in cellulose into alcohol fuel. Advanced ethanol, by comparison, is sourced from non-cellulosic feedstocks including sugars and starches other than corn starch. All sources of ethanol will be required to provide the nation with the kind of energy choices we need. The potential of cellulosic ethanol is enormous. Sandia National Laboratory says that the U.S. could produce 75 billion gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol by 2030, more than half of today’s U.S. gasoline demand. Dozens of companies are rapidly creating new technologies that will turn America’s waste products — garbage, wood chips, agricultural residue, corn stover, grasses, algae and more — into renewable fuel and other bio-based products.