BD agrees- EISA targets were realistic, but timelines were crazy

DuPont's Nevada IA plant.  This project is under construction and scheduled to reach mechanical completion at the end of the year; it was not one of the original 2007 DoE-supported projects.

DuPont’s 30 MGY Nevada, IA plant is scheduled to reach mechanical completion by the end of the year; it was not one of the original 2007 DoE-supported projects.

In the wake of one commercial-scale facility (POET-DSM Project Liberty) having come on line, and just days before the grand opening of the next one (Abengoa’s Hugoton facility) Biofuels Digest has posted the first part of a two-part review of the nascent industry:

http://www.biofuelsdigest.com/bdigest/2014/10/09/earth-to-cellulosic-ethanol-glad-youre-here-buddy-what-took-so-long/

My hobby horse lately has been that we’re finally seeing the exponential growth of cellulosic biofuel production capacity called for in the 2007 EISA legislation, only 5ish years behind the initial schedule.  Having tens of millions of gallons per year worth of production capacity being put in the ground is a HUGE policy achievement considering where the industry was just a few years ago, but the downside inherent in the math of the exponential growth called for in EISA is that we’ll still be playing catch-up to those original targets for the foreseeable future.  The BD review is also pretty harsh on the structure and initial targets of EISA, pointing out that:

  • The way the cellulosic ‘mandate’ was written – a highly-ambitious target timeline with a mechanism for annual re-adjustment based on projected industry capacity – was a perfect recipe for obstructionism from the policy’s opponents
  • The original cellulosic roll out timeline assumed that all planned projects would be financed fully and technologically successful, and did not recognize the time required to go from groundbreaking to mechanical completion to commissioning to full production –

The absence of a proven demonstration at scale of the technologies would prove to be, in some cases — fatal to projects which proceeding to jump to scale prematurely — and a delaying factor in financing for the rest.

– Biofuels Digest editors

Despite these challenges, and despite the intervening 2009 financial crisis, the article points out that 3 of the 6 original biorefinery projects supported by DoE in 2007 have actually been constructed (Abengoa/Hugoton KS, INEOS/Vero Beach FL, and POET/Emmetsburg IA), though often with changes in facility size, location, and ownership along the way.  In addition, the industry has produced another commercial-scale facility in the US beyond the original DoE program, as well as others in Canada, Italy, and Brazil.  So while EISA’s flaws have given the industry’s detractors ammunition for years to come, it has in fact succeeded in the goal of propelling the step up from pilot-scale projects to commercial-scale facilities.

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