Energy crop company Ceres, Inc. will provide specially developed energy crop cultivars for thousands of acres of switchgrass, high-biomass sorghum and other energy crops over the next three years near St. Joseph, Missouri to support a next-generation biorefinery being engineered by ICM, Inc. Last week, Department of Energy officials announced up to $30 million in supplemental funding for the planned facility. (Earlier post.)
ICM plans to integrate biochemical and thermochemical processing and demonstrate energy recycling within the same facility. 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.
Ceres’ primary role in the project is to supply the seed to nearby farmers, who will grow the plants and harvest the biomass. The company will also provide agronomic recommendations to the overall venture, which will compare numerous raw materials, including Ceres’ dedicated energy crops, for their conversion efficiency and fuel yields, as well as their economic viability.
Ceres chief executive Richard Hamilton said that the learnings from this small-scale project will have far-reaching impact, allowing participating companies to optimize the biofuel production and delivery chain from seed to pump. He expects energy crop acreage across the US to increase rapidly as best practices are duplicated in other areas.
Ceres expects these improvements to result in higher net energy benefits, as well as reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, switchgrass-to-ethanol produces about five times more energy than needed to grow, harvest and process it, and results in 90% less greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum, according to the company.