A leader in the development and commercialization of second-generation, cellulosic ethanol, KL caught the eye recently of Forbes’ reporter Christopher Helman.
According to the somewhat skeptical Helman, KL has devised what it says is a better process to make ethanol out of wood chips. KL CEO Steven Corcaran told Helman [pdf] that the process lends itself to small production plants that could be built for $40 million, in areas with plentiful low-cost waste wood, like Colorado forests ravaged by the mountain pine beetle, and produce 5 million gallons of ethanol a year.
Indeed KL is a provider of biofuels technology and is accelerating the commercialization of its proprietary cellulosic technology for the production of ethanol. Corcaran and his staff developed its Cellulose Based Ethanol (CBE) technology through laboratory and pilot scale R&D resulting in the first woody biomass demonstration plant in the nation.
According to its website, KL Energy is on course to be first to market with a viable process design to accommodate a variety of biomass feedstocks. The process design is scalable and environmentally sound which will complement economic conditions that serve potential plant sites around the world.
“Contrast that with corn-based megaplants that gin up 50 million to 100 million gallons a year,” Helman wrote. “In 2007 Corcoran raised $9 million in capital to build KL's first commercial-scale plant in Upton, Wyoming, which can make 1.5 million gallons of ethanol a year. Too soon to tell if KL's process will survive in the long run, but it is interesting, and at all-in costs of roughly $3.50 a gallon, almost economic.”
Perhaps Helman should be a bit more optimistic. Why? The company is doing what other firms aren’t doing. Example: in November 2009, KL announced that its Upton cellulosic ethanol facility was approved by the USDA as a biomass production facility under the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). The approval, announced by Senator John Thune, is believed by the company to be the first BCAP approval for a cellulosic ethanol facility [pdf].
In addition the company has the first industrial size plant operating in the US and is currently working with its strategic partners and licensees to commence the construction of additional cellulosic based ethanol facilities in the US as well as in Europe and South America.
A program administered by the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program provides KL Energy with funding to offset the feedstock cost associated with their demonstration biorefinery in Upton that produces cellulosic ethanol and other high value energy products from wood chips. BCAP offers a matching per-ton payment for the collection, harvest, storage and transportation of renewable biomass delivered and sold to a local biomass conversion facility.
According to KL Energy, CBE plants produce ethanol by processing wood waste from wood mill and lumber processing facilities; feedstock in "standing dead" forests from insect infestation or "slash pile" accumulation from private and national forest thinning operations.
The wood is converted to ethanol through a proprietary pretreatment technology developed by KL using virtually no acids. This environmentally friendly process is the greenest of all the technologies currently in development for production of CBE. KL technology makes it economical to convert woody biomass feedstock into cellulose ethanol using a thermal-mechanical and enzymatic hydrolysis process. The lignin is an energy rich product which can be burned to generate steam or electricity or marketed as a value-added wood pellet co-product. "
“Processing biomass using KL CBE technology offers a unique opportunity to produce a lignin-rich, higher BTU content stove pellet that provides many market advantages over the conventional wood pellet,” the KL Energy's website states.
The site continues, “As a natural consequence of converting the fermentable portion of the biomass feedstock to ethanol, the solid co-product can be formed into pellets that are denser and more durable than the typical wood pellet marketed today. The KL CBE process minimizes chemical biomass pretreatment because the lignin co-product chemistry is unaltered. This result is a clean-burning premium product.”
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