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Businessexcellence ACHIEVING




Genera Energy focuses on advancing biomass-fuels technologies that could help alter the economics of non-food biofuels. Now the University of Tennessee spinoff is developing a first-of-its-kind Biomass Innovation Park that it hopes will become a model for the rest of the country, as Keith Regan discovers


enera Energy LLC was formed in 2008 by the University of Tennessee Research Foundation with a goal of helping to advance the research and commercial development of the emerging cellulosic biofuels industry. Originally founded to carry out the university’s $70.5 million biofuels initiative, Genera has struck commercial partnerships, forged supply contracts with farmers and helped create a farmer-owned biomass supply cooperative. Genera and industry partner DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol (DDCE) have a demonstration-scale cellulosic ethanol biorefinery in Vonore, Tennessee, a plant that is fueled today by corn cob and stover and is designed to operate on switchgrass and other biomass feedstocks. Over the next several months the biorefinery will begin operating on switchgrass produced on 6,000 acres in East Tennessee. That partnership is aimed at leveraging DDCE’s cellulosic ethanol technology—considered among the world’s best—and the university’s world-class expertise in cellulosic feedstock production and research. With a capacity of 250,000 gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually, the plant went into operation in late 2009. Now, with an eye toward demonstrating the best methods for handling, storing and preparing that biomass to become fuel, Genera has broken ground on a Biomass Innovation Park on property surrounding the demonstration-scale biorefinery, a project aimed at testing and developing methods of using biomass feedstock to create biofuels, biochemicals, bioproducts, biomaterials, biopower and bioenergy.


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Genera Energy LLC

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Genera Energy LLC

“There are a lot of things that need to happen, from storage and conveyance and handling to grinding, milling, densification, characterization— all these things affect the cost of biomass,” says Genera president and chief executive officer Dr. Kelly Tiller. “This park is designed to demonstrate and scale up all the processes, systems and operations that will be used between producing energy crops on farms and using them in downstream applications.” Cellulosic biofuels can theoretically be made from any plant material but, unlike corn-based fuels, require additional processes before the fermentation that creates fuel for use in automobiles and other energy settings. The approach is often seen as a key piece of a larger energy-independence puzzle by using readily available, sustainable and fast-growing low-input plant materials for fuel, avoiding the need to divert energy-intensive raw material that could otherwise find its way into human or animal food supplies. Besides the additional processing steps, another economic limitation of cellulosic biomass is the sheer bulk of the raw material used. Whether it’s switchgrass, corn stover—what’s left over after the corn itself is removed—or biomass from trees, “this material is not easy to transport and handle,” Dr. Tiller says. “We think we can develop a model of how to use a value-adding aggregation point for material from the surrounding area that will help improve the economics of the approach even more.” Over time, the Biomass Innovation Park can serve as a template for replication in areas near

farms that are producing the biomass fuels, Dr. Tiller says, creating a distributed network of such facilities that reduces the need to transport bulky material over long distances. The Biomass Innovation Park sits on about 33 acres in Vonore and is anchored by the demonstration-scale biorefinery, which began operations in January 2010, processing corn cob. In late 2010 the biorefinery will begin using switchgrass from local farms with which Genera has supply contracts in place. Infrastructure planned for the park includes material receiving, two silos with conveyance apparatus and tunnels, areas for storing baled material, a processing building, other maintenance, service, and office buildings, and field areas for growing demonstration crops. The first phase of the park buildout will focus on basic infrastructure needed for handling, storing and pre-processing the biomass. The site plan contemplates future expansion for analytical laboratories and to demonstrate other conversion processes. In the fall, as much as 20,000 tons of switchgrass will be harvested in a short time frame, material that will need to be brought into the park and stored before processing can begin. Laidig Systems is supplying the switchgrass truck receiving stations and storage silos. At the same time, Genera will also use the park to carry out a $5 million Department of Energy grant awarded to explore a high-volume bulk handling system for switchgrass. Most such material is currently baled for transportation off-farm, and a bulk approach could cut down on costs. Over time, the park will continue to evolve and expand, Dr. Tiller adds. “We see this having a long useful life as the place where all things are integrated with as much flexibility as possible, including the ability to look at a range of other feedstocks with an eye toward figuring out the best approaches for each of those as well.” The park model could be especially well suited for farmers’ cooperatives, in which groups of farmers band together to create a central place to store and process their bulk raw material and get it into the processing stream as quickly and efficiently as possible. “They could use this model to add value to their crops prior to it moving downstream. That’s one way this could work.”

Genera Energy LLC

Laidig Industrial Systems Laidig Industrial Systems provides raw material storage silos and reclaim systems. The Laidig system





control while supplying a well-blended product when extracted from storage. This allows for the material to be fed to further processing at a controlled rate, eliminating power surging with process equipment down line. The net result is a lower production cost and a higher net return from the process. In the years ahead the Laidig system will return its investment many times over. Low operating and maintenance costs and safety are keys to a successful operation.

Plans call for the first phase of the park to be completed by the end of 2010, with additional development unfolding over time. Although the park is meant to test and demonstrate processes and help prove the economic viability of the technologies involved, Dr. Tiller believes the time for cellulosic biofuels is now. “We have enough information now about the technology and the economics to suggest that this is not a future dream; this is ready now,” she says. “Of course, there are areas where we could see improvements and efficiencies that could be gained, and those will happen over time. But this is not something off in the distance. We’re ready to scale this up now. When you take all this work together, it serves as very strong validation of an integrated approach that takes material all the way from the farm to the filling station.”


GENERAenergy_OCT10_NA_BROCH Businessexcellence C O R P O R AT E B R O C H U R E ONLINE ACHIEVING G filli Genera Energy focuses on advancing biomass...

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