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NREL updates Survey of Advanced Biofuel Producers in the United States

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) updated its annual survey of US non-starch ethanol and renewable hydrocarbon biofuels producers. The 2015 Survey of Non-Starch Ethanol and Renewable Hydrocarbon Biofuels Producers provides an inventory of the domestic advanced biofuels production industry as of the end of calendar year 2015, documenting important changes (e.g., biorefinery development, production capacity, feedstock use, and technology pathways) that have occurred since the publication of the original 2013 survey.

During 2015, NREL surveyed 114 companies that were reported to be pursuing commercial-scale biofuel production capacity. Companies were classified as either non-starch (cellulosic or algae-derived) ethanol producers or renewable hydrocarbon producers. The questionnaire included topics such as facility stage of development, facility scale, feedstock, and biofuel products. The NREL team supplemented missing survey data elements (when possible) with publicly available data obtained directly from company websites, press releases, and public filings.

Sixty-one facilities with sufficient data were included in this report. Twenty-nine non-starch ethanol facilities (27 cellulosic ethanol facilities plus 2 algal-derived ethanol facilities) and 32 renewable hydrocarbon facilities were obtained or researched and validated to justify inclusion of these facilities in this survey report. Eleven (5 at the commercial scale) of the 29 non-starch ethanol facilities were operational in 2015, and 12 (2 at the commercial scale) of the 32 renewable hydrocarbon facilities were operational in 2015.

The report follows a staged development process and groups facilities into pilot-, demonstration- and commercial-scale facilities.

Cellulosic ethanol. In 2014, about 0.7 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol were produced; about 2.0 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol were produced January-November 2015. Eight of the commercial facilities identified in this survey were scheduled to become operational sometime after the end of 2015; one (Abengoa) was idled in 2015.

77% of the cellulosic ethanol facilities (23 of 30) used or are planning to use a biochemical technology pathway, with 2 using a thermochemical gasification route, two using a hybrid biochemical/thermochemical technology, and 2 using an algal technology pathway for the direct production of ethanol.

The 23 facilities using a biochemical technology pathway used a range of feedstock materials. Of the 23 biochemical pathway facilities, 7 used crop residues, 4 used woody biomass, 5 used corn kernel cellulose, 4 used dedicated energy crops, 2 used MSW, and 1 facility did not report a specific feedstock beyond cellulosic sugars. The two thermochemical gasification facilities used either woody biomass or MSW as feedstock. Two facilities used a hybrid biochemical/thermochemical pathway: one utilized crop residues and the other MSW as feedstock.

Renewable hydrocarbons. Only 167 million gallons per year of capacity for renewable hydrocarbons were operational at the end of 2015. One plant, KiOR, was producing in 2013, but was idled in 2014. Another plant, Renewable Energy Group, Inc. (formerly idled Dynamic Fuels) was in the process of start-up in early 2015 before idling due to a fire.

In 2014, only around 5,000 gallons of hydrocarbons from cellulose were produced; as of September, 0.2 million gallons of hydrocarbons from cellulose were produced in 2015.

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NREL’s biomass research program is funded by DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) and is the largest national laboratory bioenergy program across the Energy Department’s eleven national laboratories that conduct bioenergy research. BETO is focused on forming cost-share partnerships to develop and demonstrate technologies for advanced biofuels production.

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