Steel in the Ground Renewable Energy

A new plant was designed and recently built, in Italy, to produce bioethanol from agricultural residues and energy crops at a commercial scale using enzymatic conversion, ref. 1. This second generation ethanol plant provides, what is now called, steel in the ground renewable energy. The new plant, located in Crescentino, Italy was completed in October 2013. It is the culmination of efforts by two Italian based chemical companies. Beta Renewables, a global leader in cellulosic biofuels, part of the Mossi & Ghisolfi Group, teamed with Novozymes, the world’s largest producer of industrial enzymes, made this new plant a reality. The plant uses wheat straw, rice straw and Arundo donax, a high yielding energy crop grown on marginal land. Lignin, a polymer extracted from biomass during the the ethanol production process, is used by an attached power plant. The plant generates enough power to meet the facility’s energy needs. Any excess green electricity is sold to the local grid. The plant is designed to produce up to 20 million gallons per year (MMgy) of cellulosic ethanol. For the purpose of comparing plant productivity, corn fed plants in the U.S. are producing between 100 to 300 MMgy of ethanol.

Agricultural residues include, but are not limited to, straw, grass and wood. Using these residues for the production of ethanol will rob the soil of its natural nutrients. A loss of these natural green nutrients give rise to an increasing need for chemical fertilizer. Chemical fertilizers require the use of fossil fuels in their production process. We need to to have a public debate on this subject before our government invests more of our tax money to build second generation biofuel plants in the U.S. Please read the section in my book on the positive and negative aspects of supporting the production of ethanol using agricultural residues.

Ref. 1