E3 BioFuels launched its high- efficiency Genesis Plant today in Mead, Neb., as the world's first closed-loop ethanol plant fueled largely by biogas from animal waste instead of coal or natural gas.
"This is the next generation of ethanol, and it's in production today," said E3 BioFuels President and CEO Dennis Langley, who was joined by Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman in a press conference before leading a tour of the plant. "Our process lets America get its automotive fuel from the croplands of the Midwest instead of the oilfields of the Mideast."
"This plant sets a new standard for ethanol production in this state and our nation, and is an example of the innovation needed to take this industry to the next level," Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman said. "We are very proud to be the home of this facility. It is an indicator that our state is committed to finding creative ways to use our natural resources in producing a more efficient and home-grown fuel."
In addition to the environmental benefits, the Genesis Plant at Mead represents an enormous advancement in energy efficiency. Within the plant itself, the closed-loop system can produce over 46 units of energy (in the form of ethanol) for each unit of fossil fuel energy required. That 46:1 ratio inside the plant compares to a conventional ethanol plant's efficiency per unit of fossil fuel of less than 3:1.
E3 BioFuels' patented closed-loop ethanol system produces energy by combining manure, collected from an adjacent 28,000-head cattle feedlot, with thin stillage, a cellulosic byproduct of ethanol refining. The hot liquid mixture is decomposed inside an anaerobic digester, where bacteria extract methane-rich biogas that is used to fire the plant's ethanol boilers. Traditional ethanol refineries are fueled by coal or natural gas.
The closed-loop system not only reduces pollution by using biogas instead of fossil fuels, it also serves as a powerful waste management solution for dealing with agricultural waste.
By recycling livestock manure into biogas energy, the system eliminates a major component of the No. 1 source of water pollution in the United States: agricultural runoff. The high-efficiency process also captures the methane gas that manure otherwise releases to the atmosphere; methane is 23 times as potent as carbon dioxide in causing global warming.
"Biofuels have the potential to help solve global warming because the growing plants used to make them absorb carbon dioxide that's already in our atmosphere," said David Tuft, campaign director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's climate center in Washington, D.C., who attended the launch of the Genesis Plant in Mead. "Next-generation biofuels, like those made by E3 BioFuels' closed-loop system here at the Genesis Plant, make solving global warming even easier by avoiding the use of fossil fuels in their manufacture. That means we're releasing less of the ancient carbon that is trapping heat in our atmosphere."
U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) commended E3 BioFuels on its breakthrough closed-loop process, saying, "Investment in ethanol will be critical to address our nation's growing energy needs. Ethanol and renewable fuels will create a wider and deeper domestic energy portfolio while providing important markets for Nebraska's agriculture producers. With the new facility in Mead, E3 BioFuels expands on this ever-growing market while being innovators in environmental stewardship."
Construction of the $80 million Genesis Plant was completed this spring. It will produce 25 million gallons of ethanol a year, and consume 300,000 tons of manure. Including the feedlot, it provides 90 jobs in Mead, population 564, illustrating how proponents of biofuels say they can revitalize the economies of rural communities.
Langley said E3 BioFuels intends to locate more plants in several Midwestern states, and will license the technology for others to use as well. Once it becomes commercially feasible to refine ethanol from plant cellulose, he said, E3 BioFuels will have a ready supply of cellulose already on site in the form of leftover material from the biogas digester unit, increasing the positive energy balance.
"This high-efficiency plant represents the next evolution of the biofuels industry," said E3 BioFuels CEO Langley. "Here in Mead we're taking a giant leap toward energy independence while at the same time providing tools to meet our waste management and global warming challenges."