By Ben Messenger Managing Editor WMW
Construction work at the new biorefinery was completed back in mid-August, with cellulosic ethanol production starting up at the end of September.
Abengoa (MCE: ABG.B/P SM /NASDAQ: ABGB)explained that the plant utilises only ‘second generation’ biomass feedstocks for ethanol production, meaning non-edible agricultural crop residues (such as stalks and leaves) that do not compete with food or feed grain.
The facility also features an electricity cogeneration component which the company said allows it to operate as a self-sufficient renewable energy producer.
By utilising residual biowaste solids from the ethanol conversion process, the plant generates 21 MW of energy from waste – enough to power itself and provide excess clean renewable power to the local Stevens County community.
The company said that the Hugoton plant opening also marks the first-ever commercial deployment of its proprietary enzymatic hydrolysis technology, which turns organic waste into fermentable sugars that are then converted to ethanol.
Among the first wave of commercial-scale ethanol plants in the country, Abengoa said that the Hugoton plant builds on recent industry momentum showcasing cellulosic ethanol as a sustainable alternative fuel source that significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions and increases energy independence.
In addition to the plant’s role in proving the commercial viability of cellulosic ethanol, the developer said that its success provides a platform for the future development of other bioproducts that reduce petroleum use, such as bioplastics, biochemicals and drop-in jet fuel.
Industrial scale biotech
At full capacity, the Hugoton facility will process 1000 tons (907 tonnes) per day of biomass, most of which is produced within a 50-mile radius.
According to Abengoa, this will provide $17 million per year of extra income for local farmers whose agricultural waste would otherwise have little or no value. Of that waste, more than 80% is expected to consist of irrigated corn stover, with the remainder comprised of wheat straw, milo stubble and switchgrass.
“The Hugoton plant opening is the result of 10 years of technical development, roughly 40,000 hours of pilot and demonstration plant operation, and the support of the DOE,” said Manuel Sánchez Ortega, CEO of Abengoa.
“This would have been simply impossible without the establishment of the Renewable Fuel Standard,” he added.
Abengoa received a $132.4 million loan guarantee and a $97 million grant through the Department of Energy to support construction of the Hugoton facility.
The company said that it now plans to offer licenses and contracts to interested parties covering every aspect of its technology, from process design, to engineering, procurement and construction (EPC), supply of exclusive enzymes, as well as operations and marketing of the completed products from the facility.
The proprietary enzymatic hydrolysis technology utilised commercially at Hugoton is also a focal point in Abengoa’s efforts to diversify the range of raw material feedstocks from which biofuels and bioproducts can be produced.
For example, for more than a year the company explained that it has been operating a demonstration-scale facility that is capitalising on the same technology and enzyme cocktail used at Hugoton to extract cellulosic sugars from municipal solid waste, thereby allowing expansion of the renewable fuels industry from rural to urban areas.
The opening was attended by U.S. Secretary of Energy Dr. Ernest Moniz, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, Former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Kansas Senator Pat Roberts, Mayor of Hugoton Jack E. Rowden and CEO of Abengoa Manuel Sánchez Ortega.
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