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[Due to the increasing size of the archives, each topic page now contains only the prior 365 days of content. Access to older stories is now solely through the Monthly Archive pages or the site search function.]

DOE Co-Optima initiative publishes report reviewing first 12 months; progress on fuels and engines

January 16, 2017

The US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Co-Optima initiative—a broad, joint effort to co-optimize the development of efficient engines and low greenhouse-gas fuels for on-road vehicles with the goal of reducing petroleum consumption by 30% by 2030 beyond what is already targeted (earlier post)—has published a year-in-review report for FY 2016—the initiative’s first 12 months.

Co-Optima’s premise is that current fuels constrain engine design—and thus engine efficiency. The researchers suggest that there are engine architectures that can provide higher thermodynamic efficiencies than available from modern internal combustion engines; however, new fuels are required to maximize efficiency and operability across a wide speed/load range. The report details the technical progress in a selection of projects across the initiative’s two main thrusts: spark ignition (SI) and advanced compression ignition (ACI).

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DOE and USDA issue notice of intent for Biomass Research and Development Initiative

January 15, 2017

The US Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (EERE’s) Bioenergy Technologies Office, in coordination with the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA's) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), announced its intent to issue a Request for Applications (RFA) through the Biomass Research and Development Initiative. (DE-FOA-0001711)

Projects funded through this RFA, titled “Fiscal Year 17 Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI),” will help develop economically and environmentally sustainable sources of renewable biomass, and increase the availability of renewable fuels and biobased products. The BRDI program requires that funded projects address at least one of the following three legislatively mandated technical areas:

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DOE and USDA partner to award up to $22.7M for integrated biorefineries

January 07, 2017

The US Department of Energy (DOE) and the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) jointly announced $22.7 million to support the optimization of integrated biorefineries (IBR). DOE is providing majority funding with up to $19.8 million and USDA-NIFA is providing up to $2.9 million in funding.

Federal support for first-of-a-kind IBRs could significantly reduce the technical and financial risks associated with the operation of commercial scale biorefineries. The DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) has identified, via stakeholder engagements through a request for information (RFI) and a Biorefinery Optimization Workshop, areas in which DOE and USDA-NIFA can effectively support technology development and engineering solutions to economically and sustainably overcome technology barriers.

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DOE BETO releases new strategic plan; biofuels to constitute 25% of US transportation fuels by 2040

December 31, 2016

The US Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) released its new strategic plan, titled Strategic Plan for a Thriving and Sustainable Bioeconomy. The strategic plan—with a vision for 2040—lays out BETO’s mission to accomplish its vision in a dynamic setting that realizes changes in the energy landscape, advances in technology, growing environmental awareness, and public expectations.

The strategic plan sets the foundation for the development of BETO’s multi-year program plans, annual operating plans, and technology program areas. It also takes a crosscutting approach to identify opportunities to adapt and align BETO activities and project portfolios with those in both the public and private sectors. The plan centers around four key opportunities: enhancing the bioenergy value proposition; mobilizing US biomass resources; cultivating end-use markets and customers; and expanding stakeholder engagement and collaboration.

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DOE awarding $12.9M to 6 pilot- and demonstration-scale projects for manufacturing biofuels, bioproducts, and biopower

December 29, 2016

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has selected six projects—entitled, “Project Definition for Pilot- and Demonstration-Scale Manufacturing of Biofuels, Bioproducts, and Biopower”—-for up to $12.9 million in federal funding. These projects, required to share the cost at a minimum of 50%, will develop and execute plans for the manufacturing of advanced or cellulosic biofuels, bioproducts, refinery-compatible intermediates, and/or biopower in a domestic pilot- or demonstration-scale integrated biorefinery.

The projects will be evaluated in two phases. Award recipients will design and plan their facilities in Phase 1. In order to continue to Phase 2, projects will be evaluated on Phase 1 progress, as well as the ability to secure the required 50% cost share funding for Phase 2. DOE anticipates Phase 2 awards to be made in fiscal year 2018 to construct and operate the pilot- or demonstration-scale facility. Projects could receive additional federal funds of up to $15 million for pilot-scale facilities or $45 million for demonstration-scale facilities.

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Synthetic biology startup Lygos closes $13M Series A to target oil-based specialty chemical industry

December 13, 2016

Lygos, Inc., a bio-based specialty chemicals company, closed $13 million in Series A financing led by IA Ventures and OS Fund. Other investors include First Round Capital, the Y Combinator Continuity Fund, 50 Years and Vast Ventures, along with notable angel investors. Lygos produces high-value specialty chemical traditionally produced in oil-based petrochemical processes in a process that commercially proven, acid-tolerant yeast and domestic sugars instead of petroleum, and has pioneered the world’s first bio-based production of malonic acid (a C3-dicarboxylic acid). (Earlier post.)

The current process used to produce malonic acid requires sodium cyanide and chloroacetic acid; Lygos’ engineered yeast produces malonic acid from sugar and CO2. Many Lygos target products are organic acids—compounds that are expensive to synthesize using petrochemistry but can be produced at high theoretical yield microbially.

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DOE to issue funding opportunity for integrated biorefinery optimization

December 06, 2016

DOE to issue funding opportunity for integrated biorefinery optimization

The US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) intends to issue, on behalf of the Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) and the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a funding opportunity announcement (DE-FOA-0001689) entitled, “Integrated Biorefinery Optimization.”

This FOA will support research and development to increase the performance efficiencies of biorefineries resulting in continuous operation and production of biofuels, bioproducts, and biopower at prices competitive with fossil-derived equivalents.

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BP takes $30M stake in Fulcrum Bioenergy; 500M gallon renewable jet offtake agreement

November 08, 2016

Fulcrum BioEnergy and BP signed a major strategic partnership that includes a $30-million equity investment in Fulcrum by BP. With Fulcrum’s first plant under construction, this partnership accelerates the construction schedule for Fulcrum’s next renewable jet fuel plants.

Fulcrum and Air BP, the aviation division of BP, have also agreed to terms on a 500-million gallon jet fuel offtake agreement that will provide Air BP with 50 million gallons per year of low-carbon, drop-in jet fuel. Air BP will also have the opportunity to provide fuel supply chain services for the blending, certification and delivery of Fulcrum’s jet fuel to commercial and military aviation customers.

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Researchers find “zip-lignin” native to multiple plant species; potential for new approaches to degrading lignin for biorefineries

October 15, 2016

In 2014, researchers from Michigan State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison and their colleagues successfully engineered poplar trees to produce lignin that degrades more easily, thereby lowering the effort and cost to convert wood to biofuel. (Earlier post.)

Now, in an open-access paper published in Science Advances, some of those same researchers have discovered that various plant species might have naturally convergently evolved to express the same feature natively.

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Rotterdam proposed location for Enerkem waste-to-chemicals plant

October 07, 2016

A partnership comprising AkzoNobel, Van Gansewinkel, Air Liquide, AVR and Enerkem is proposing to build a waste-to-chemicals plant in Rotterdam in collaboration with the Port of Rotterdam, the City of Rotterdam, the province of South Holland and InnovationQuarter.

The new chemical plant will use Enerkem’s innovative technology to convert residual waste into methanol, a raw material used in the chemical industry. The methanol will then be converted into chemicals such as acetic acid (e.g., for fibers and adhesives), thickening agents and dimethyl ether (clean propellant gases).

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NREL lowers biofuel costs through catalyst regeneration and vapor-phase upgrading; R-Cubed

October 06, 2016

This past June, researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), in partnership with Particulate Solids Research, Inc. and Springs Fabrication, installed a recirculating regenerating riser reactor (R-Cubed) in the pilot-scale Thermochemical Process Development Unit (TCPDU). Funded by the DOE Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO), this unique unit represents the next generation of thermochemical biomass conversion technology and adds additional capabilities to NREL’s state-of-the-art Thermochemical Users Facility.

The R-Cubed system will now allow for catalytic upgrading of biomass pyrolysis vapors—a process that can significantly improve the efficiency and reduce the costs associated with upgrading bio-oil to a finished fuel product—at an industrially-relevant pilot scale.

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Toyota develops new DNA analysis technology to accelerate plant improvement; boosting biofuel crop yield

September 23, 2016

Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) has developed a DNA analysis technology it calls Genotyping by Random Amplicon Sequencing (GRAS). This technology is capable of significantly improving the efficiency of identifying and selecting useful genetic information for agricultural plant improvement.

This newly developed technology could thus lead to substantial time and cost savings in the agricultural plant improvement process. Toyota says that the promising technology has the potential to boost sugar-cane production, and to increase biofuel crop yields per unit area of land. The company worked with analytical materials provided by the Kyushu Okinawa Agricultural Research Center (KARC) of the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO)

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Strategic consortium to commercialize Virent’s BioForming Technology for low carbon fuels and bio-paraxylene

September 15, 2016

Renewable fuels and chemicals company Virent has established a strategic consortium with Tesoro, Toray, Johnson Matthey and The Coca-Cola Company focused on completing the development and scale up of Virent’s BioForming technology to produce low carbon bio-based fuels and bio-paraxylene (a key raw material for the production of 100% bio-polyester).

The consortium members will work together to finalize technical developments and commercial arrangements, with the objective of delivering a commercial facility to produce cost effective, bio-based fuels and bio-paraxylene. Earlier this month, Virent and petroleum refiner and marketer Tesoro reached an agreement for Tesoro to become Virent’s new strategic owner. (Earlier post.)

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European consortium begins demonstration project for conversion of woody biomass to chemicals: BIOFOREVER

September 07, 2016

BIOFOREVER (BIO-based products from FORestry via Economically Viable European Routes)—a consortium of 14 European companies—has started a demonstration project for the conversion of woody biomass to value-adding chemical building blocks such as butanol, ethanol, and 2,5–furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA) on an industrial scale.

The demonstration project will run for 3 years. The overall budget is €16.2 million (US$18 million) with a €9.9-million (US$11-million) contribution from BBI JU. Woody biomass, including waste wood, will be converted to lignin, (nano-) cellulose and (hemi-) cellulosic sugars, and further converted to lignin derivatives and chemicals. Feedstocks will be benchmarked with crop residues and energy crops.

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U-M study finds crop-based biofuels associated with net increase in GHGs; falsifying the assumption of inherent carbon neutrality

August 25, 2016

A new study from University of Michigan researchers challenges the assumption that crop-based biofuels such as corn ethanol and biodiesel are inherently carbon-neutral—i.e., that only production-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions need to be tallied when comparing them to fossil fuels.

In an open-access paper published in the journal Climatic Change, the researchers conclude that once estimates from the literature for process emissions and displacement effects including land-use change are considered, US biofuel use to date is associated with a net increase rather than a net decrease in CO2 emissions.

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New genome sequences target next generation of yeasts with improved biotech uses

August 16, 2016

Metabolically, genetically and biochemically, yeasts (unicellular fungi) are highly diverse; more than 1,500 yeast species have been identified. Characteristics such as thick cell walls and tolerance of pressure changes that could rupture other cells mean yeasts are easily scaled up for industrial processes. In addition, they are easy to grow and modify and, with notable exceptions such as Candida albicans, most are not associated with human illness. While these capabilities can be used for a wide range of biotechnological applications, including biofuel production, so far industry has only harnessed a fraction of the diversity available among yeast species.

To help boost the use of a wider range of yeasts and to explore the use of genes and pathways encoded in their genomes, a team led by researchers at the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI), a DOE Office of Science User Facility at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, conducted a comparative genomic analysis of 29 yeasts, including 16 whose genomes were newly sequenced and annotated. In a study being published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the team mapped various metabolic pathways to yeast growth profiles.

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MIT, Novogy team engineers microbes for competitive advantage in industrial fermentation; the ROBUST strategy

August 06, 2016

Researchers at MIT and startup Novogy have engineered bacteria and yeast (Escherichia coli, Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Yarrowia lipolytica) used as producer microbes in biofuel production to use rare compounds as sources of nutrients. The technique, described in a paper in the journal Science, provides the producer microbes with competitive advantage over other, contaminating microbes with minimal external risks, given that engineered biocatalysts only have improved fitness within the customized fermentation environment.

Ethanol is toxic to most microorganisms other than the yeast used to produce it, naturally preventing contamination of the fermentation process. However, this is not the case for the more advanced biofuels and biochemicals under development. Thus, one problem facing the production of advanced biofuels via large-scale fermentation of complex low-cost feedstocks (e.g., sugarcane or dry-milled corn) is the contamination of fermentation vessels with other, unwanted microbes that can outcompete the designated producer microbes for nutrients, reducing yield and productivity.

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2016 Billion Ton Report shows US could sustainably produce at least 1B tons biomass by 2040 for bioeconomy

July 13, 2016

Within 25 years, the United States could produce enough biomass to support a bioeconomy, including renewable aquatic and terrestrial biomass resources that could be used for energy and to develop products for economic, environmental, social, and national security benefits, according to the new 2016 Billion-Ton Report, jointly released by the US Department of Energy and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

The 2016 Billion-Ton Report, volume 1, updates and expands upon analysis in the 2011 US Billion-Ton Update (earlier post), which was preceded by the 2005 US Billion Ton Study (earlier post). The report uses scientific modeling systems to project biomass resource availability under specified economic and sustainability constraints.

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DOE issues RFI on biomass supply systems to support billion-ton bioeconomy vision

June 09, 2016

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has issed a Request for Information (RFI) (DE-FOA-0001603) seeking feedback from industry, academia, research laboratories, government agencies, and other stakeholders to support a “billion-ton bioeconomy.” This request for information (RFI) asks for input about specific aspects in the development of large-scale supply systems and technologies to eventually supply up to a billion dry tons of biomass feedstocks annually for a variety of end uses.

In 2005, a joint study by the US Departments of Agriculture and Energy (USDA and DOE) concluded that the land resources of the US could produce a sustainable supply of biomass sufficient to displace 30% or more of the country’s then-present petroleum consumption. The study found that just forest land and agricultural land alone have a potential for 1.3 billion dry tons of biomass feedstock per year—leading to the shorthand “billion-ton bioeconomy.” (Earlier post.)

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New 3-step process for conversion of kraft lignin from black liquor into green diesel

June 01, 2016

Researchers in Sweden and Spain have devised a three-step process for the conversion of precipitated kraft lignin from black liquor into green diesel. Their paper appears in the journal ChemSusChem.

The kraft process converts wood into wood pulp for paper production. The process produces a toxic byproduct referred to as black liquor—a primarily liquid mixture of pulping residues (such as lignin and hemicellulose) and inorganic chemicals from the Kraft process (sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfide, for example). For every ton of pulp produced, the kraft pulping process produces about 10 tons of weak black liquor or about 1.5 tons of black liquor dry solids.

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DOE to award up to $90M for integrated biorefinery projects

May 07, 2016

The US Department of Energy (DOE) will award up to $90 million in project funding focused on designing, constructing and operating integrated biorefinery facilities. (DE-FOA-0001232)

“Project Development for Pilot and Demonstration Scale Manufacturing of Biofuels, Bioproducts, and Biopower” is a funding opportunity that will support efforts to improve and demonstrate processes that break down complex biomass feedstocks and convert them to gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, as well as plastics and chemicals.

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DOE to issue funding opportunity to develop plans for drop-in bio-hydrocarbon biorefinery

April 16, 2016

The US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) intends (DE-FOA-0001581) to issue, on behalf of the Bioenergy Technologies Office, a Funding Opportunity Announcement (DE-FOA-0001232) entitled “Project Definition for Pilot and Demonstration Scale Manufacturing of Biofuels, Bioproducts, and Biopower (PD2B3)”. The FOA will be issued on or about 2 May.

This FOA supports technology development plans for the manufacture of drop-in hydrocarbon biofuels, bioproducts, or biopower in a pilot- or demonstration-scale integrated biorefinery. Plans for facilities that use cellulosic biomass, algal biomass, or biosolids feedstocks will be considered under this funding opportunity.

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ORNL team develops better moldable thermoplastic by using lignin; 50% renewable content

March 23, 2016

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have developed a new class of high-performance thermoplastic elastomers for cars and other consumer products by replacing the styrene in ABS (acrylonitrile, butadiene and styrene) with lignin, a brittle, rigid polymer that, with cellulose, forms the woody cell walls of plants.

In doing so, they have invented a solvent-free production process that interconnects equal parts of nanoscale lignin dispersed in a synthetic rubber matrix to produce a meltable, moldable, ductile material that’s at least ten times tougher than ABS. The resulting thermoplastic—called ABL for acrylonitrile, butadiene, lignin—is recyclable, as it can be melted three times and still perform well. The results, published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, may bring cleaner, cheaper raw materials to diverse manufacturers.

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Double catalyst for the direct conversion of syngas to lower olefins

March 21, 2016

The light olefins ethylene, propylene, and butylene—usually made from petroleum—are key building blocks for chemical industry, and are starting materials for making plastics, synthetic fibers, and coatings. In the journal Angewandte Chemie, Chinese scientists report on a new bifunctional catalyst that converts syngas to lower olefins (C2-C4) with high selectivity. This could make it more attractive to make olefins from alternative sources of carbon, such as biomass, natural gas, or coal.

The design of bifunctional catalysts could result in further breakthroughs in developing one-step processes for selective production of fuels and chemicals such as gasoline, diesel, and aromatics from synthesis gas.

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DOE seeking input on operation of integrated biorefineries

March 14, 2016

The US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (EERE’s) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) is seeking (DE-FOA-0001481) input from industry, academia, research laboratories, government agencies, and other stakeholders that will help it better understand capabilities—as well as barriers and opportunities—for the operation of integrated biorefineries (IBRs) to produce biofuels, biochemicals, and bioproducts.

BETO is seeking information on all IBR processes and technologies, including any and all systems processes, technologies, methods and equipment employed to convert woody biomass, agricultural residues, dedicated energy crops, algae, municipal solid waste (MSW), sludge from wastewater treatment plants, and wet solids, into biofuels, biochemicals, and bioproducts.

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Government of Alberta awarding $10M to SBI Bioenergy for production of drop-in hydrocarbon fuels; funds from carbon levy

March 10, 2016

Using revenue from the price Alberta’s large emitters pay for releasing greenhouse gases, the Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation (CCEMC) has earmarked a $10-million contribution for Alberta-based SBI BioEnergy to support a $20-million facility for the demonstration-scale production of drop-in, renewable diesel, jet and gasoline fuels from plant oils and waste fats.

With this investment, SBI will be able to produce 10 million liters (2.6 million gallons US) of renewable diesel fuel annually. This support works in concert with Alberta’s Renewable Fuels Standard which requires commercial fuel producers to blend renewable products into their fuels. SBI’s facility strengthens Alberta’s expanding industrial bio-product sector and gives Alberta farmers a new market for off-grade canola.

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Tohoku researchers develop efficient hydrodynamic reactor for pretreatment of biomass

March 07, 2016

Researchers at Tohoku University in Japan have developed a new system combining hydrodynamic cavitation with sodium percarbonate (SP) (an environmentally benign oxidation reagent) for the efficient pre-treatment of biomass. Compared to a pretreatment system using ultrasonication and SP (US-SP), the new HD-SP system was more efficient for glucose and xylose production; both systems resulted in a similar degree of lignin removal, and neither generated the inhibitor furfural, while it was detected in dilute acid (DA)-pretreated biomass.

In a paper published in the ACS journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research, the Tohoku team sugested that the HD-SP system could be easily scaled up for a high-throughput system. Because compared to an US cavitation reactor it requires much lower energy input, it is promising for the industrial-scale pretreatment of lignocellulosic biomass, they said.

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New ammonia biomass pretreatment process improves yield with lower enzyme loading; improving cellulosic biofuel economics

February 23, 2016

A team from the US, China and India, led by researchers from Michigan State University, has developed a new liquid ammonia biomass pretreatment methodology called Extractive Ammonia (EA). EA-pretreated corn stover delivers a higher fermentable sugar yield compared to the older Ammonia Fiber Expansion (AFEX) process while using 60% lower enzyme loading.

As described in a paper in the RSC journal Energy & Environmental Science, the single-stage EA process achieves high biofuel yields (18.2 kg ethanol per 100 kg untreated corn stover, dry weight basis), comparable to those achieved using ionic liquid pretreatments. The EA process achieves these ethanol yields at industrially-relevant conditions using low enzyme loading (7.5 mg protein per g glucan) and high solids loading (8% glucan, w/v).

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China’s Kaidi to build €1B BTL biofuel refinery in Finland

February 13, 2016

China-based Kaidi plans to build a €1-billion (US$1.1-billion) biofuel refinery in Kemi. The planned refinery will produce 200,000 tons of biofuels per year, of which 75% will be biodiesel and 25% biogasoline.

The second-generation biomass plant will use energy wood as the main feedstock and it will be the first of its kind, not only in Finland but globally. Kaidi will make the final investment decision by the end of the year. The plant could be operational in 2019.

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