Cellulosic Biofuel Finally Hits the Big Leagues
KiOR is “a next-generation renewable fuels company that has developed a proprietary technology platform to convert biomass into renewable crude oil that is processed into gasoline, diesel, and fuel oil blendstocks," with stated goals to “help ease dependence on foreign oil, reduce lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions and create high quality jobs and economic benefit across rural communities.”
No small feat, but last month they took a huge leap toward achieving those lofty goals when they opened their first commercial scale wood-to-gas biofuel production plant in Columbus, Missouri. Agriculture and industry both produce large amounts of waste material in the form of leaves, tips and branches of trees and husks among other things. KiOR’s cellulosic fuel facility will make use of all this byproduct, refining 500 tons of biomass into 40,000 gallons of gasoline and diesel each day.
Kate Perez, a company spokeswoman, told Bloomberg Businessweek that they hope to reach full production capacity in 9 to 12 months.
KiOR CEO Fred Cannon explained the process in layman’s terms:
If you think about the way nature makes crude oil, we just accelerate that natural process. Nature does it thermally; we do it catalytically. We start with the same material nature started with. We compress that process from, let’s say, a million years, or a very long period of time, into literally seconds. We take solid biomass through a single-step conversion to renewable crude oil. And then we upgrade that crude oil to cellulosic gasoline and diesel.
With the transportation fuels market topping out at over $2 trillion annually worldwide, there are several other companies scrambling to get into the commercial biofuels game. But currently other big U.S. players like Gevo Inc. and Amyris are stuck in the laboratory, struggling to get their technologies factory ready.
KiOR is one of several companies in this space that have raised vast amounts of capital with little to show for their efforts. Alejandro Zamorano Cadavid, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, explains that most of these biofuel companies “are not on schedule with their original plans, and it’s not surprising. The common denominator is that they’ve all underdelivered on promises from when they IPO’d.”
In Europe, Italian biofuel manufacturer Chemtex became the company with the largest cellulosic biofuel plant in the western world when they opened a plant in Crescentino several months ago. That plant has a 20 million gallon yearly capacity, compared to KiOR’s 13 million gallon a year capacity, and is scheduled to start up production in a few months. They now have plans to open refineries in the U.S. It seems the race to capture the biofuels market is officially on.
Sustainable America applauds these sorts of innovations in the transportation fuels industry. Advanced biofuels help our nation to reduce dependence on oil for transportation and help to make our fuel systems and our food systems that depend on transportation and fuel for production more sustainable and resilient for the future.
Photo courtesy of KiOR Fuels