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Commercial cellulosic ethanol still coming, execs say

24 Feb 2012, 4.59 pm GMT

Orlando, 24 February (Argus) — Cellulosic ethanol manufacturers are poised to deliver real results after wild promises made a few years ago soured the industry, executives said this week at the National Ethanol Conference in Orlando, Florida.

Cellulosic ethanol became a sore point for the biofuel sector because of unfulfilled mandates, and federal programs supporting its development are set to expire at the end of 2012. Companies did not produce any certified gallons of the fuel last year, inviting derision from critics and companies that are federally-required to purchase it.

Big promises made just three years ago by some companies fell utterly flat, costing the industry its credibility, according to Abengoa executive Christopher Standlee.

That sentiment was echoed by Mascoma chief executive Bill Brady and ZeaChem chief executive Jim Imbler at the conference.

“It was all hype, and Powerpoint presentations were in fashion, and a lot of statements were made that didn't make sense. They made sense if you were in Silicon Valley, but if you're in the real world they don't make sense,” Zeachem's Imbler said.

Abengoa's next-generation ethanol facility in southwest Kansas is now scheduled to go into service at the end of 2013. The Spain-based ethanol manufacturer is constructing tanks, laying foundation and ordering all equipment it needs for the 1,630 b/d cellulosic facility in Hugoton, Kansas, according to Standlee, executive vice-president of Abengoa's US holding company.

“We have a strong belief that cellulose really holds great promise for the industry,” he said, acknowledging the shifting timeline.

ZeaChem finished the first phase of a 16 b/d demonstration plant earlier this year outside Boardman, Oregon. Mascoma has signed a joint development agreement with US independent refiner Valero and a timber company for a 1,300 b/d Kinross, Michigan, facility.

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