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Verenium Announces First Commercial Cellulosic Ethanol Project; 36M Gallons per Year

Vereniumprocess
Overview of the Verenium production process. Source: Verenium. Click to enlarge.

Verenium Corporation will build its first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facility in Highlands County, Florida. The Company has entered into long-term agreements with Lykes Bros. Inc., a multi-generation Florida agri-business to provide the agricultural biomass for conversion to fuel. Verenium also announced that the Highlands Ethanol project has been awarded a $7 million grant as part of Florida“s “Farm to Fuel” initiative.

Verenium’s planned commercial facility will be the first in the State of Florida to use next-generation cellulosic ethanol technology to convert renewable grasses to fuel, rather than processing food crops. The plant will be constructed on fallow land, and is expected to produce up to 36 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year.

Verenium anticipates breaking ground on this facility in the second half of this year, and expects to start producing fuel in 2011. Additional jobs will be created during the 18-to-24 months of construction on the plant, which is estimated to cost between $250 and $300 million to build.

Verenium recently received a special use permit from Highlands County for this facility, located in South Central Florida, and is in the process of finalizing other necessary permit applications.

Carlos A. Riva, Verenium’s President and CEO, said the strategic partnership with Lykes Bros. provides the basis for a long-term supply of agricultural feedstock, essential to ensuring next-generation biofuels are cost-efficient. The Florida project is the first of several the Company has under development.

The agreements between Verenium and Lykes Bros. include a facility site option and a long-term farm lease. Under these agreements, Lykes will provide the necessary feedstock from approximately 20,000 farmable acres adjacent to the site.

Verenium was formed in June 2007 through the merger of Diversa Corporation, a leader in enzyme technology, and Celunol Corporation, a developer of cellulosic ethanol process technologies and projects. This combination yielded an integrated, end-to-end cellulosic ethanol capability.

Verenium’s conversion process originated from technology developed by a team led by Dr. Lonnie Ingram at the University of Florida and originally licensed by Celunol.

The key element of the conversion technology is two types of genetically engineered Escherichia coli bacteria: BW34 to ferment C6 (hexose) in cellulose and KO11 to ferment C5 (pentose) sugars present in hemicellulose.

Ingram modified the E. coli—which could use both 5- and 6-carbon sugars, but produced very little ethanol—with the ethanol-producing capabilities of Zymomonas mobilis. Z. mobilis is a good ethanol producer that is highly alcohol-resistant, but is also very sensitive to its environment, is not very hardy, and can mostly use only glucose. (Earlier post.)

In a briefing with analysts and investors in May 2008, Verenium said that it was expecting a production cost of $1.34/gallon for its first-generation technology.

In August 2008, Verenium and BP formed a strategic partnership to accelerate the development and commercialization of cellulosic ethanol. Under the initial phase of the strategic alliance, Verenium will receive $90 million in total funding from BP over 18 months for rights to current and future technology held within the partnership. (Earlier post.) Verenium and BP are currently focusing on a second phase of collaboration surrounding the development and deployment of commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol production facilities.

Comments

sulleny

Most encouraging here is BP's participation. It is just these former petro-based energy companies that should be picking up the renewable fuel ball. Building on fallow land and partnering with a biomass producer makes plenty of sense - keeping the entire enterprise out of the clutches of federal tampering.

Congratulations to a team of forward thinking business people. But GWB does not deserve the credit - it should properly go to Mr. Obama.

JosephT


sulleny - Dude, join us in reality, OK. This started in the 2006 Florida Legislature. Obama had been a junior Senator (IL) for barely a year, Jeb Bush was Governor of Florida.

If you want to give credit, thank GM, a bunch of farmers, a dozen Alternative Fuel Alliances and a law firm.

ejj

Conceptually, they could go a couple steps further: use the newly developed natural catalyst to produce hydrogen from ethanol (http://www.greencarcongress.com/2009/01/researchers-dev.html). Sell the hydrogen to whoever will buy it - vehicle manufacturers, etc. (BNSF & the US Army are researching hydrogen fuel cell trains - sell hydrogen to the railroads & military eventually?!). A by-product of this process is CO2, so construct an algae biorefinery onsite also - send the CO2 stream to the algae biorefinery to make biodiesel or more ethanol. They could use some of the hydrogen produced to run fuel cells, which in turn would power the entire operation. It would seemingly be a 100% clean, self-sustaining operation (maybe even be one great big CO2 "sink" considering the overall intake of plants & algae). Overall, it might put out a lot more energy than it would take in - just keep the biomass coming and manage all the dials & valves. It would eventually pay for itself and there could be big profits.

ai_vin

This is good but I have a minor nit-pick: Fallow land = Cultivated land that is not seeded for one or more growing seasons.

If they can find barren land to build on and put the fallow land back into production, that would be better.

BTW I'm still not sold on ethanol, cellulosic or otherwise. Other biomass derived fuels have more potential and/or better ERoEI.

ToppaTom

Seems like fast progress since corn ethanol.

And, I believe sulleny is engaging in a bit of sarcasm.

Mannstein

@ ejj That's great more energy coming out than going in. Is this Green physiscs or what?

ejj

@Mannstein: It's entirely possible that a lot more energy comes out than goes in. They're going to use sweet sorghum & "energy cane"; these plants use a fraction of the water that irrigated corn does & produce a massive amount of biomass during each growing season. In a modern hi-tech bioreactor setting with all the technology built in, including the potential use of solar and tidal and/or gulfstream power here in Florida where I live, I think it's entirely possible. There are so many engineers that are out of work right now here that could be put to work on this - it involves mostly environmental / industrial / mechanical engineering dilemmas that have been solved in other industries (nuclear power, oil refining, etc.). Optimizing the algae & use of the catalyst for hydrogen production to me are the most difficult parts of this.

ejj

@Mannstein: Actually - perhaps what I'm actually thinking is cheap/free/environmentally friendly energy inputs and highly marketable profitable outputs.

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