Farm Industry News Blog

New Cellulosic Ethanol Projects = New Jobs

My small town has lost a few businesses recently. I’m sure you’ve seen the same in your towns. The picture has been pretty bleak in many rural areas around the country in recent years. That’s why it’s encouraging to learn that some of the new cellulosic ethanol projects being planned could create new jobs in areas where new jobs are sorely needed.

The December edition of Farm Industry News will publish an update on where some of the leading cellulosic ethanol projects are at in the demonstration and commercialization stage.

By the end of this year, DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol (DDCE) expects to begin producing cellulosic ethanol at a 250,000-gallon demonstration biorefinery in Vonore, TN. DDCE is a 50/50 joint venture that was formed in 2008 by DuPont and Danisco A/S.

DDCE will take what it learns from the Vonore plant and apply it to a commercial size facility, which it plans to build in the Midwest and start production in 2012. It is currently evaluating five or six different sites and expects to select the site by the end of this year. This facility will be co-located with a corn ethanol plant.

DDCE also plans to build a commercial plant in Tennessee, which would produce 15 million gallons of ethanol per year from switchgrass. This would create new markets for area farmers since the plant would require delivery from about 25,000 to 30,000 acres of switchgrass. Such a new industry would create new jobs in a state that needs them. Tennessee currently suffers from a nearly 11 percent unemployment rate.

Just how many jobs could be created? One company projects that a plant producing 15 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year from dedicated energy crop feedstocks could create 190 permanent jobs and 200 temporary jobs (e.g., construction jobs). A plant that produced 50 million gallons per year could create nearly 400 permanent jobs and 500 temporary positions. The numbers increase as capacity grows, and these numbers don’t even take into account local businesses (e.g., retail stores, restaurants) that would greatly benefit from having a large employer near town

Range Fuels is another example of what could become a large employer in a rural area. It is building a cellulosic ethanol plant in Soperton, Ga. Construction of this central Georgia biorefinery is currently 50 percent complete and production is expected to begin by the second quarter of 2010.

The plant will begin by producing less than 10 million gallons of cellulosic biofuels per year, but it could be scaled up to produce as much as 100 million gallons per year. Between construction jobs, biorefinery jobs, biomass handling, distribution, logistics, maintenance and more, the new biorefinery could employ more than 500 people.

The Range Fuels plant will begin by using woody biomass. But, its process could also utilize corn stover, switchgrass, municipal solid waste and other feedstocks—providing producers new market opportunities in the future.

I’ve written about the Biomass Crop Assistance Program in this blog before, and just wanted to draw your attention to a new listing of qualified biomass conversion facilities. If you have biomass to sell or are thinking about the possibility, you might want to contact the firms on this list. They are located all over the country. Visit www.fsa.usda.gov and click on the Facility Listing #14. Many of the facilities are power companies, lumber companies and so on, but I imagine we will see more cellulosic ethanol facilities as time goes on.

Cellulosic ethanol still has some hurdles to clear to bring production costs in line with gasoline. But, several companies have been working very hard to do this and are making good progress. I’m optimistic that this progress will translate into new jobs in communities that really need it.

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The Farm Industry News Blog features commentary from Willie Vogt, Jodie Wehrspann, Kathy Huting, Lynn Grooms, Daryl Bridenbaugh and Jeff Ryan.

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