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US DOE Selects First Round of Small-Scale Biorefinery Projects for Up to $114M in Federal Funding; Total Project Investment of More Than $331M

Major DOE Biofuels Project Locations. Click to enlarge.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) will invest up to $114 million, over four years, (Fiscal Years 2007-2010) in four small-scale biorefinery projects to be located in Commerce City, Colorado; St. Joseph, Missouri; Boardman, Oregon; and Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. Combined with industry cost share, more than $331 million will be invested in these four projects.

These ten-percent of commercial-scale biorefineries will use a wide variety of feedstocks and test novel conversion technologies to provide data necessary to bring online full-size, commercial-scale biorefineries. On average, commercial-scale biorefineries input 700 tons of feedstock per day, with an output of approximately 20-30 million gallons a year (MMGY); these small-scale facilities will input approximately 70 tons of feedstock per day, with an estimated 2.5 MMGY.

Due to the large response to this solicitation, DOE anticipates selecting a second round of small-scale projects later this spring, bringing the agency’s total investment up to $200 million should a second round of selections be made.

Expected to be operational in four years, the selected small-scale biorefineries projects will produce liquid transportation fuels such as cellulosic ethanol, as well as bio-based chemicals and bio-based products used in industrial applications.

DOE is also working with these companies, and other research partners, to develop methods for reducing water and fertilizer needs associated with production of these fuels. DOE claims that the amount of fossil fuels used to produce the different biofuels represented by these projects is significantly less than the amount associated with gasoline production—on average as much as 90% less over the full lifecycle.

DOE has announced more than $1 billion of funding within the last year for multi-year biofuels research and development projects. These small-scale projects also complement the Department’s February 2007 announcement, where projects were selected to receive up to $385 million over four years for the development of six commercial-scale biorefineries. (Earlier post.)

Negotiations between the selected companies and DOE will begin immediately to determine final project plans and funding levels. Funding is subject to appropriations from Congress. The following four projects were selected:

  • ICM Incorporated of Colwich, Kansas; DOE will provide up to $30 million. The proposed plant will be located in St. Joseph, Missouri, and will utilize diverse and relevant feedstocks including agricultural residues, such as corn fiber, corn stover, switchgrass and sorghum. ICM, Inc. will integrate biochemical and thermochemical processing and demonstrate energy recycling within the same facility. This project stands to broaden the company’s focus from corn-based to energy crop-based ethanol production.

    Target production is 1.5 million gallons per year (MMGY) of fuel ethanol by the 4th quarter of 2010. The pilot biorefinery will be co-located with existing 50 MMGY dry-mill ethanol plant and will leverage energy usage and infrastructure.

    ICM co-participants/investors include: AGCO Engineering; NCAUR-ARS-Peoria; CERES, Inc; Edenspace Systems Corporation; DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory; Novozymes North America, Inc; South Dakota State University; Sun Ethanol, Inc.; and VeraSun Energy Corporation.

  • Lignol Innovations Inc., of Berwyn, Pennsylvania; DOE will provide up to $30 million. The proposed plant will be co-located with a Suncor petroleum refinery in Commerce City, Colorado, and using biochem-organisolve, will convert 100 tonnes per day (dry basis) of hard and soft wood residues into ethanol, lignin and furfural. Lignol has acquired and since modified a solvent-based pre-treatment technology that was originally developed by a subsidiary of General Electric.

    Targeted production is in excess of 2 million gallons/year of cellulosic ethanol plus biochemical co-products, including high purity lignin. Suncor will be the in-house customer for all of the ethanol produced by the proposed plant.

    Lignol Innovations participants/investors include: Suncor Energy; and Parker Messana & Associates.

  • Pacific Ethanol Inc., of Sacramento, California; DOE will provide up to $24.3 million. The proposed plant will be co-located at an existing Pacific Ethanol plant in Boardman, Oregon, and will convert wheat straw, corn stover and poplar residuals—all derived from within a 50-mile radius of the plant—to ethanol using BioGasol’s proprietary conversion process.

    Biogasol is a new company spun-off from the MaxiFuels project at the Danish Technical University (DTU) in Lyngby, Denmark. The main product is cellulosic bioethanol, but the process is also focused on the production of methane (from a biogas process) and hydrogen (from xylose fermentation) as well as other valuable by-products from the parts of biomass not suitable for ethanol production. (Earlier post.)

    The project is estimated to be operational in 2009, with expansion to commercial scale by 2012.

    Pacific Ethanol’s investors/participants include: Biogasol LLC; and DOE’s Joint Bioenergy Institute (DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories).

  • Stora Enso, North America, of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin; DOE will provide up to $30 million. The project will construct and operate a thermal gasification and gas-to-liquids plant at Wisconsin Rapids Mill and produce liquid biofuels that will ultimately be converted into renewable diesel. NewPage Corporation—the largest printing paper manufacturer in North America—recently acquired Stora Enso North America, the original applicant for this funding opportunity announcement.

    Targeted production is 370 barrels per day (approximately 5,500,000 gallons per year) of Fischer-Tropsch liquids. Feedstock will be 497 bone dry tons per day of woody biomass comprised of mill residues and unmerchantable forest biomass.

    Stora Enso’s partners include: TRI; Syntroleum; U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory; and the Alabama Center for Paper and Bioresource Engineering at Auburn University.



Seems like a positive trend. Not one plant based on food stocks as an input source. All based on waste wood and waste field products. Perhaps DOE got the memo about food verses fuel for biofuels stocks. About the only negative concern I have in this is curiosity about the long term effects of losing this material to soil enrichment. Have there been any studys about the loss of this material in field soil/top soil replacement?

Still for the most part looks like the right direction.


The summation that I got from looking at the soil enrichment was about 1/2 of the stalk biomass should go back to the soil and 1/2 can be used. I do not have any links I can add, it was a while back.


If half stubble is retained this would be similar to current agricultural good practice. No till, stubble retention maintains soil structure and necessary organic matter. The retained roots help control erosion and structure.
This is equivalent to mowing with a grass catcher.
If the crop is grown as food crop or animal feed crop, there may be a higher value as a part of the soil maintenance and fertilizing program.
Careful management would be key to sustainable value adding in this circumstance.
The economics will need to be considered.
Many fibre crops have a much lower fertility requirement which can often be met by a healthy soils normal production.


"497 bone dry tons per day of woody biomass..." An impressive volume of cellulose. But honestly, is a "bone dry ton" any different in weight than a wet ton?

These all appear to be worthwhile projects with good returns potential. Curious as to why there are few if any NGO investors in these ventures. It surely is not for lack of interest or financing.


A ton is a ton, but lots of moisture has to be cooked out to get down to conversion. They have to heat the biomass anyway, but to heat it to eliminate moisture is kind of a waste.

One of the previous mentioned methods was to pyrolyze the mass at lower temperatures with very little oxygen and then gasify with a bit more oxygen to get to synthesis gas. Another was going directly to methane without the syngas step.

There seem to be lots of techniques being used and I would guess that lots of private capital will not come in until all this is sorted out. This is yet another way the private sector leverages off of public dollars.

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