Sundrop names partners in CENLA green fuel plant

Sundrop Fuels, Inc. of Longmont, Colorado, announced on May 23 it has entered a partnership with ThyssenKrupp Uhde, a technology and engineering supplier, for development of what the company says will be "the nation's first bona fide commercial "green gasoline" production facility.

The company's inaugural plant to be located near Alexandria, Louisiana, will yield up to 50 million gallons of renewable gasoline annually, according to a press release from Sundrop's corporate office. It will also serve as a proving ground for Sundrop Fuels' proprietary biomass conversion technologies that will be used for future large-scale facilities.

ThyssenKrupp and various affiliated and partnering firms operate worldwide. More than 70 engineers from SunDrop and ThyssenKrupp USA Inc., are working together to complete designs for the Louisiana plant, which should begin construction late this year.

Sundrop Fuels plans to convert sustainable forest residues and thinnings as feedstock combined with natural gas into bio-based "green gasoline," using a process that integrates gasification, gas purification, methanol synthesis, and a methanol-to-gasoline process. The biofuel will be ready for immediate use in current combustion engines, and will be delivered to the marketplace through the existing fuel distribution infrastructure. SunDrop says the first production plant will have a capacity of about 3,500 barrels of renewable gasoline per day.

To put the announced production figures into perspective, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) lists U.S petroleum consumption totals for 2011 a at 18,835,000 barrels per day. Motor gasoline consumption is 8,736,000 barrels, or 208 million gallons, per day. U.S. total petroleum exports are 2,924,000 barrels per day.

According to Forisk Consulting, a Georgia-based private forestry and forest products consulting firm, "Recent announcements from the EPA regarding the Renewable Fuels Standard, and from private biofuels firms regarding their moves away from cellulosic ethanol, reinforce sober realities. Wood based biofuel projects continue to rely on unproven technologies, and strive to produce a product with an unproven market."

The SunDrop project anticipates use of natural gas in addition to wood biomass as part of its feedstock--a process so far not on the market. But with the dramatically lower prices of natural gas following on from growing production from the national shale drilling, conversion of natural gas to motor fuel is a prospect.

International Wood Fiber Report, quoted by Arkansas Forestry Association, said a mild winter in the Eastern US, plus low-cost driling fattened natural gas prices and dragged down prices to a 10-year low. Concurrent with natural gas price decline, many US pulp and paper mills began switching to higher gas consumption, displacing substantial volumes of biomass. In-woods fiber, a relatively new source of fuel, appears to be taking the biggest volume loss, the report says, Traditional sawmill "hog fuels" leftovers like bark, sawdust and scraps, are in jeopardy, since solid wood companies must dispose of the waste.