The Future of Fuel Might Be Inside of an Orange Grove

Written by Joanna M. Foster

Cellulosic ethanol has been a “just around the corner” technology for a bit too long to hold most people’s attention. The fuel — made from indigestible waste from lawn maintenance, wood products, and agriculture — has all the promise of renewable fuel that conventional ethanol once held without the inconvenient realities of rising food prices, and environmental wear and tear, but it has never come to fruition.

But now a company in Florida, INOES Bio, is producing this futuristic fuel at commercial quantities for the first time, using local yard, vegetative and agricultural waste, including that from the area’s abundant citrus groves.

It’s a clean technology milestone — the dream is happening.

At its Indian River BioEnergy Center in Vero Beach, Florida, wood and vegetative matter is heated in a partial oxygen environment, creating hydrogen and carbon monoxide gas. Bacteria then eat the gas, excreting an alcohol which is then distilled. The company hopes to soon add municipal solid waste into its fuel mix.

The target is for the plant to produce 8 million gallons of ethanol a year and use the heat generated during production to generate 6 megawatts of renewable energy — enough to power the entire facility and export power to the local community. The first ethanol shipments are expected this month.

The plant is located in the heart of Florida’s orange-growing country and the community was faced with a surplus of green waste after a NAFTA agreement drove up the cost of citrus and forced many farmers to reduce their acreage. In an interview with E&E, Helene Caseltine, economic development director for the Indian River Chamber of Commerce said the economic impact of INEOS Bio coming to town has been “incredible.” The paywalled article goes on to say, “it has spent $130 million in capital investments and millions more for permits and land planning. The plant employs 65 people on site, with many dozens more employed indirectly … The average wage for workers is $50,000 per year, about $16,000 more than the county average.”

First scheduled to open at the end of last year, the BioEnergy Center has seen its share of setbacks, including difficulties transporting methane from a local landfill to its boilers and the time lost when a thunderstorm knocked out power to the facility and the plant took weeks to get back up online.

The gasification-fermentation technology which has made the dream a reality, was developed at the University of Arkansas with the help of over $5 million in Department of Energy grants. INOES has also received $50 million in stimulus money, as well as $75 million in loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

While the Indian River BioEnergy Center may be a first, it won’t be alone for long. Ethanol company Poet LLC and DSM are hard at work building their own plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa, which will have an estimated capacity of 25 million gallons. DuPont is working on its own 30 million gallon plant in Nevada, Iowa and Abengoa Energy of Spain is building a 23 million gallon facility in Hugoton, Kansas. And don’t forget that KiOR inc. has been producing cellulosic diesel and gasoline at its plant in Columbus, Mississippi for months now.

Despite all the exciting recent developments, there is no doubt that the industry still has a long way to go. According to the 2009 Renewable Fuel Standard mandate the U.S. was supposed to be on track to produce 1 billion gallons of cellulosic biofuels this year — an order of magnitude more than can reasonably be expected by the end of the year.

This post was originally published at ClimateProgress.

Photo from Thinkstock

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andrew miller
andrew miller2 years ago

Thanks for sharing

Julia Troitskaia
Julia Troitskaia2 years ago

Thanks for sharing

Ann B.
Ann B.2 years ago

thanks for sharing

Belle W.
Belle W.2 years ago

Interesting new technology, and I'm glad it's using indigestible waste. The idea of growing corn for energy was flawed; this seems markedly better.

'Great White' Earth & Bei
'Great White' 2 years ago

Here is another to this REALLY STUPID & UNNECESSARY idea, which I have not seen posted anywhere, the average to family farmers and Ag. growers are going extinct, thus, this would be just another way to put more money in the wallets of the rich (and the rich family) farmers and Ag. Growers!
This just reminds me of REALLY STUPID & UNNECESSARY idea Ethanol (corn fuel)!!!!! The whole I idea is help save our planet!!!!!

Sarah H.,

Great point, I had NOT thought of that negative to this REALLY STUPID & UN-NECESSARY idea. By the way, there far, far and far too many restrictions that would have to be placed on and negatives to this REALLY STUPID & UNNECESSARY idea.

Sailor H.,

Finally, at least one-member agrees with one of the negatives I posted to this REALLY STUPID & UNNECESSARY idea!

Linda Goossens
Lin G.2 years ago


Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

As long as it really is only waste, I support it. I hate the idea of putting food into our gas tanks, especially since there are so many people starving!

Michael H.
Mike H.2 years ago

Thank you for sharing

Sailor H.
Sailor H.2 years ago

I am concerned that this is all resting upon agricultural waste, which is dependent on there being lots of agriculture in the area, which (in turn) is dependent on BEE COLONIES being healthy enough to pollinate and support citrus crops and other sectors of agriculture. Florida agriculture might look a lot different in a decade if the staggering decline of bees continues.

Kimberly C.
Kimberly C.2 years ago

Thanks for passing along some good news!