Environmental Health & Safety / Energy Efficiency

Emerson Is Main Automation Contractor At Next-Gen Biofuels Plant

Source: ChemicalProcessing

Mar 12, 2009

Second-generation biofuels company Range Fuels has formed a strategic relationship with Emerson Process Management to help bring online the first commercial cellulosic biofuels plant in the United States.

Range Fuels selected Emerson as its main automation contractor for the new Soperton, Ga., plant, which will use non-edible biomass such as timber and wood waste generated by nearby forest industry operations to produce more than 100 million gallons of ethanol and methanol annually. Emerson also is the main automation contractor for Range Fuels’ existing pilot plant in Denver, which was designed to optimize the proprietary and patented thermo-chemical process that converts timber and wood feedstock into fuel.

“We expect to shorten our project cycles and ramp up to production target levels safely and efficiently with Emerson’s assistance,” said Bill Schafer, senior vice president, business development, Range Fuels. “Our intent is to replicate this plant and to strategically establish additional plants near feedstock sources in the United States.”

Emerson’s engineering expertise and process control and automation technologies have enabled Range Fuels to test and refine its processes at its Denver optimization plant, which successfully demonstrated to government partners and financial backers the commercial viability of its biomass-to-ethanol conversion technology. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently awarded Range Fuels an $80 million loan guarantee, the first ever for a cellulosic ethanol plant.

As the main automation contractor for the Soperton plant, Emerson is assessing risks and defining protocol, engineering and automation standards that will allow Range Fuels to lower risks, reduce downtime, and run reliably and efficiently to meet its production goal of more than 100 million gallons of ethanol and methanol annually. Production at the Soperton plant is expected to begin in 2010.

In addition to Emerson’s engineering expertise, Range Fuels is using Emerson’s PlantWeb digital automation and safety technology, which is suited to Range Fuels’ Soperton facility and the emerging alternative fuels industry due to its network of digital systems and intelligent field devices, according to Emerson.

“We are delighted to have a strategic relationship with Range Fuels, which is clearly an innovative leader in this emerging alternative fuels industry,” said Steve Sonnenberg, president, Emerson Process Management. “We’ve been honored to work with them from inception, beginning with process development in the lab and at the process plant, continuing to the commercial facility in Georgia, and certainly expanding to more plants in the future. We are committed to their success and that of the overall industry as it helps resolve the world’s declining oil supply and meets increased demand for alternative fuels.”

The biofuels industry is an important one for Emerson given the predicted shortage of oil in the coming years. In fact, the International Energy Association World Energy Outlook 2008 projects the world oil shortage will reach 28.6 million barrels a day by 2030.

To address commercialization issues and other topics in the biofuels industry, Emerson has launched a series of leadership summits on the viability of the biofuels industry and will host an Alternative Fuels/BioRefinery Summit on March 19 in Denver, where industry, academia, and government representatives will share best practices from related industries and identify contemporary technologies that provide safe operations, environmental protection and sustainable commercial viability.