On October 17, Abengoa opened up the second commercial scale plant in the country to produce ethanol from cellulosic materials. After decades of technology development, this new milestone offers hope for renewable transportation from non-food crops.
The plant is located in Hugoton in southwest Kansas and will use corn stover, stalk and leaf residues from cropping. The plant will use 1,000 tons of biomass per day to make 25 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year, providing a projected $17 million to local farmers. The plant uses enzymatic hydrolysis technology that also produces heat and power from residual biomass.
The Hugoton plant had been selected as a “project area” by the USDA Farm Services Agency under the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). A project area is a designated region around a biomass conversion facility where incentives for the crops apply. In this case, that includes six counties around Abengoa, one in the Oklahoma panhandle.
The project had been intended to purchase from farmers perennial native grasses such as switchgrass, big bluestem, and indiangrass. These crops offer the potential for reduced water consumption and, also, streamside buffers to reduce runoff to surface waters. They encountered difficulty competing with corn production so plans to use prairie grasses appear to be on hold for now.
The plant also qualifies for “matching payments” under BCAP, for matching payments for eligible materials. Any materials or crops paid for under the BCAP program must be harvested in accordance with a conservation plan that addresses soil and water conservation.
Cellulosic ethanol technology has been under development for decades and new commercial-scale production plants have begun to emerge. More details here.