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Colusa Brings in Trial Rice Straw Harvest with Significantly Higher Yield; Cellulosic Ethanol Production Targeted for 2007

Colusa Biomass Energy Corporation (CBEC) has completed its first-ever rice straw harvesting operation in Colusa County, California. The company plans to build a biorefinery to convert waste rice straw into ethanol. (Earlier post.)

CBEC announced that it had collected 6,800 tons of rice straw in a truncated harvest period of 5 weeks, with an average yield per acre harvested of over 4 tons/acre, compared to previous assumptions of 2.5 tons/acre.

These higher yields significantly reduced the amount of acres necessary to be harvested in order to reach CBEC’s target volume of rice straw.

Our average cash cost for collection of rice straw in this harvest was $9.44 per ton. In the full scale harvest we will undertake in 2007 we are confident that total cost (including capital cost) will not exceed $24.00 per ton. This places us very significantly below the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s benchmark for biomass gathering costs of $30.00 per ton.

—Colusa CEO Tom Bowers

The Colusa process gathers rice straw without baling it. Avoiding the baling step significantly reduces the cost of gathering biomass.

In the 2007 harvest CBEC intends to undertake a full-scale rice-straw harvest operation using 5 forage harvester units, over the full 10 weeks of the harvest. This full scale operation will produce more 70,000 tons of rice straw, which will be processed into ethanol in CBEC’s biorefinery, on which it is expected to begin construction in 2007.



Anyone know anything about rice straw properties? Requirements? Water? Fertilizer? Pesticides etc.... Does it grow in land otherwise unsuitable for food crops?

Rafael Seidl

Whoop-dee-doo. They had a bumper crop this year. This is not news.

Btw, growing rice takes an awful lot of water, which California is short of as it is. I hope Colusa is merely conducting its R&D there and planning volume production in Asia.


Comments seem negative without reason - if they are growing the rice anyway - why not use the straw instead of just burning it?

David R.

The California rice industry annually produces nearly 2 million tons of rice making it the second largest rice growing state in the nation behind Arkansas. Our ideal climate, ample water supply and innovative farming techniques result in some of the highest rice yields in the word, while at the same time providing rice of the highest quality.

Most rice grown in California is consumed domestically as table rice, in restaurants or as any number of food products. An average of 60% of the annual rice crop goes on America's dinner table, into sushi restaurants, made into beer, rice mixes and even pet food.

Exports markets are also a key destination for California rice. Countries such as Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Turkey account for 40% of annual production.

jim g

Living in the Sacramento, CA area my entire life I am familiar with the rice growing up in Colusa county, 70 miles north. Rice has been grown there for over 30 years, so as Rick writes why not use it. It's better than the burning that is done to remove it. This save the farmer the dollars to do the control burn and keeps rice smoke pollution out of our air. Sounds like a win-win.


6,800 tons of rice straw at current conversion rates appears to produce about 325k gallons of ethanol.

At 70,000 tons Colusa's plant should top 3 million gallons. Since ethanol is a previously undeveloped by-product for them it seems reason to be happy. Now if the energy content of ethanol can be raised to par with petro...


The fly in this ointment is that Central Valley farmers get precious water at artificially cheap rates. Water is 'abundant' in CA only because of vast infrastructure of dams and canals erected at state and federal taxpayer expense. Much of CA is naturally semi-desert or desert. As water becomes scarcer and the CA population booms, growing a water-intensive crop with artificially-cheap water may become untenable in the long run.

In the meantime, since ethanol in gasoline has been mandated, and CA is short of supply, I suppose this project makes financial sense due to the politically-skewed ethanol market.


At least California will have an instate source of ethanol for gasoline.


If all the rice straw in California goes to fermentation ethanol (cellulosic and other), it might make 85 million gallons a year; roughly double if syngased for BTL. Most likely, it will be to oxygenate gasoline (E-1, E-5).


Since Arkansas produces somewhere around twice as much rice as California does I would expect them to do something similar there as well.


I don't know why some people are so negative to this. I grew up just west of Sacramento and they grew the rice in the bypass [several mile wide chunk of land for flood waters].

In the last decade or so the problem facing farmers was how to get ride of the rice straw. They used to burn it off, but of course that was bad for air quality. I say all the more power to them if they can make use of all that, other wise unused, waste.

Now if they could do the same for tree prunings, that would be great. We used to use diesel, a couple of old tires, and molitove(sp) to get our brush piles burning. Now days they chip and only burn dried brush.


If 1 ton of biomass that costs $20 can be gasified into 100 gallons of ethanol that can sell for $200 wholesale, I would say someone has a business plan.


allen z,

Forgive my ignorance, but are you saying that syngassing biomass can yeild twice as much ethanol as fermentation?


If you look up cellulose gasification on this site you will see that theoretically you could produce 140 gallons of ethanol per ton of biomass. Cellulose ethanol using enzymes and fermentation is running about 70 gallons per ton right now and gasification maybe 100 gallons per ton, if all conditions are just right...which is the rub..they seldom are.


Cervus filled in. Both current and max theoretical yields are higher and roughly 2x, respectively, for BTL vs celluosic fuels.


_The caveat may be celluosic (and other sugar polymer) fuels do not require preliminary dehydration, as well as ~800C gasification stage (some, at 2,700C, are akin to a blast furnace).


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