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Biodiesel Production

The National Biodiesel Board (NBB) estimates that 450 million gallons of biodiesel was produced in the U.S. during 2007. This is approximately 200 million gallons above 2006 production levels. The NBB credits state and federal incentives, grants, and tax credits for the industry's rapid growth. In early 2008, the total existing biodiesel production capacity for the U.S was calculated at 2.24 billion gallons per year. Additional capacity from expansions of existing plants and new construction is estimated at 1.23 billion gallons per year. A map of existing and proposed biodiesel plants is presented at the Biodiesel.org website. While a number of the plants being built will be capable of using multiple feedstocks, including rapeseed, canola, and recycled vegetable oils, it is expected that soy oil will continue to be the major feedstock for the time being.

Washington now has several biodiesel facilities in various stages of development. Currently, there are 7 biodiesel production facilities operating in Washington State. The combined capacity of these plants is 135 million gallons per year (MGY). Over the last year, a number of other biodiesel projects have been put on-hold or have been cancelled. While it is hoped that Washington crops will begin to support the rapidly growing market for biodiesel, oilseed production in the region remains limited and the majority of these facilities will rely on out of state feedstocks for now. However, at least one Washington project will be sourcing locally grown oilseeds for part of its supply. Imperium Renewables contracted for 1 million gallons of canola oil from Natural Selection Farms, located in Sunnyside, Washington. Other projects, such as Standard Biodiesel, located in Arlington, WA, will be using locally sourced waste oils and fats.

Ethanol Production

During 2007, approximately 6.5 billion gallons of ethanol fuel was consumed in the U.S., with consumption projected to increase in response to the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Currently, there are approximately 134 ethanol plants operating in the U.S. with a combined annual production capacity of 7.23 billion gallons. An additional 77 new or expanding plants representing 6.2 billion gallons of capacity are in the queue. A list of existing, new and proposed ethanol plants can be found at the Renewable Fuels Association website.

While feed corn continues to be the dominant feedstock choice, producer interest in cellulosic ethanol is growing. In Ottawa, Canada, Iogen Corporation produces just over a million gallons annually of cellulose ethanol from wheat, oat and barley straw in their demonstration facility. A number of other companies are also moving forward with plans for building cellulosic ethanol facilities. In late 2007, Range Fuels broke ground on a 20 million gallon per year facility that will process ethanol from wood and wood waste in Georgia. In early August 2008, AE Biofuels, Inc. opened a demonstration facility in Butte, Montana, to produce ethanol from a variety of plant materials, including grasses, wheat straw, corn stalks, and sugar cane stalks. But the facility is also able to produce ethanol from traditional starch and sugar sources such as corn, wheat, barley, and sugarcane, providing flexibility for the company. According to AE Biofuels, the company's Ambient Temperature Enzyme technology significantly reduces the consumption of energy and water in the production of ethanol. Other pilot-scale facilities currently under development include a facility in Vonore, Tennessee, that will be built by DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol LLC (DDCE)—a joint venture of DuPont and Genencor, and the University of Tennessee Research Foundation. The facility will use dedicated switchgrass crops and corn stover, freeing their sugars using a combination of an alkaline pretreatment and enzymes and converting the sugars into ethanol using a proprietary biocatalyst. It will start producing ethanol in December 2009. In May 2008, Verenium started the commissioning phase at its 1.4 million gallon per year demonstration facility in Jennings, LA. The plant will be using specialty enzymes to convert non-food biomass into ethanol. Poet, LLC is also building a pilot-scale facility in Scotland, South Dakota that will convert corn cobs into ethanol using a proprietary process. That facility will start producing ethanol this year, preparing Poet to start construction of a commercial-scale facility in Emmetsburg, Iowa, next year. Partially funded by DOE, the Emmetsburg facility will produce 25 million gallons per year of ethanol from corn fiber and corn cobs and is slated to begin operating in late 2011.

A number of other commercial-scale facilities are also in the works. Mascoma Corporation have announced plans to build a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The facility will use microbes to break down wood fiber and ferment it into ethanol, a process known as consolidated bio-processing. In addition, BlueFire Ethanol Fuels, Inc. has been granted a conditional-use permit from the County of Los Angeles for the construction of a commercial facility to convert biowaste into ethanol. The facility will use concentrated acid to break down non-foodstock urban wastes (such as grass clippings) and forestry and agricultural residues so they can be fermented into ethanol. Slated to begin operation in late 2009 with partial funded from a DOE grant, the facility will separate lignin from the biomass and use it to produce electricity and steam. Fulcrum BioEnergy, Inc. plans to build a facility near Reno, Nevada, that will use a Plasma Enhanced Melter from InEnTec, LLC to gasify municipal solid waste, followed by a catalytic process to convert the gas into ethanol.

Producers have also been looking at Washington State for building ethanol facilities. At one point, over 666 million gallons of production capacity was identified under various stages of activity-from feasibility analysis, to permitting, to construction start-up. With the collapse of the credit market and the run-up in commodity corn prices, most of these plants were either cancelled or put on hold. Although many of the early project proposals have been cancelled, projects looking at new feedstocks and new technologies continue to be explored and may at some point be built.

Additional Resources:

National Biodiesel Board
Northwest Biofuels Association
DOE Biomass Program
Renewable Fuels Association

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