Up to $385 million will be invested in six biorefineries over the next four years by the U.S. Department of Energy to produce cellulosic ethanol. Once up and running, the biorefineries, located in California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa and Kansas, are expected to produce more than 130 million gal/yr of cellulosic ethanol. Combined with the industry cost share, more than $1.2 billion will be invested in the new biorefineries, in an effort to support President Bush’s Twenty in Ten Initiative, which aims to increase the use of alternative fuels to 35 billion gal per year by 2017.

Cellulosic ethanol uses non-food plant materials such as switchgrass, wood chips and sawdust to produce alternative fuel. While the refining process for cellulosic ethanol is more complex than that of corn-based ethanol, cellulosic ethanol yields a greater net energy benefit and results in lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The Southern California plant proposed by BlueFire Ethanol will be built on an existing landfill and use sorted green waste and wood waste to produce 19 million gal/yr of ethanol. In LaBelle, Fla., Alico proposed building a 13.9 million gal/yr ethanol facility that will draw on vegetative, yard and wood wastes. In Emmetsburg, Iowa, Brion plans to expand its corn ethanol plant to produce 125 million gal/yr of ethanol, a quarter of which will be cellulosic ethanol produced from corn, fiber, cobs and stalks. In Shelley, Idaho, Iogen will build a plant that will convert wheat straw, barley straw, corn stover, switchgrass and rice straw into 18 million gal/yr of ethanol. Range Fuels’ proposed Soperton, Ga., plant will produce 40 million gal/yr of ethanol using wood residues and wood-based energy crops. And in Kansas, Abengoa Bioenergy will build an 11.4 million gal/yr ethanol plant that will draw on corn stover, wheat straw, milo stubble, switchgrass and other feedstocks.

Of the six selected biorefineries, four of them - BlueFire Ethanol Inc., Broin Companies, Iogen Biorefinery Partners and Abengoa Bioenergy - plan to employ processes that free the sugars from the biomass and then ferment them into alcohol. The two remaining companies plan to first gasify the biomass into a synthesis gas. Range Fuels intends to convert the synthesis gas into ethanol using a catalytic process, while Alico Inc. will employ a process that feeds the synthesis gas into a fermenter to produce ethanol. Alico’s process was developed by Bioengineering Resources Inc.