For those following the progress of Brampton, Ontario-based SunOpta with its cellulosic ethanol strategy, the company put out a press release describing some of the projects it is currently working on. Some of them we’ve heard about before, but here’s the breakdown:
China Resources Alcohol Corporation — CRAC has announced their intention to construct sufficient cellulosic ethanol facilities to generate 330 million gallons of ethanol by 2012. SunOpta provided its patented systems and technology to CRAC in September 2006 and the plant began production of ethanol from local corn stover in October 2006. This facility is reported to be the first cellulosic ethanol production facility operational in the People’s Republic of China. The SunOpta system is currently operating on a continuous basis and steps are currently being taken to scale the SunOpta process up to full commercial levels for use in future plants in China. China has committed $5 billion to cellulosic ethanol production and recently announced that they would allow no further increase in ethanol production from starch (corn), due to the needs for starch as food. China’s announcement illustrates the “Food vs. Fuel” issue, which continues to be a key driver for cellulosic ethanol worldwide, together with concerns regarding the impact of the world’s “addiction to oil” on the environment and energy security.
Abengoa Bioenergy R&D Inc. — Key components of SunOpta’s patented equipment and technology have recently been shipped to Spain for the start up of the Abengoa wheat straw to ethanol facility located in Salamanca, Spain. This project is expected to start up in the summer of 2007 and will be the first commercial production facility in the world producing cellulosic ethanol from wheat straw. Abengoa is the largest producer of ethanol in Europe.
Celunol Inc. — SunOpta’s patented equipment and technology will be used in a new Celunol facility being built in Jennings, Louisiana, to produce ethanol from sugarcane bagasse and wood. This will be the first commercial production of cellulosic ethanol plant in the United States and is scheduled to start up in the summer of 2007.
GreenField Ethanol Inc. — SunOpta has recently announced the formation of a Joint Venture with GreenField Ethanol Inc., Canada’s largest producer of ethanol. The purpose of this Joint Venture is to design, build and jointly own and operate plants producing ethanol from wood chips. The first plant is planned to produce 10 million gallons of ethanol per year, which achieves the widely-accepted threshold for commercial scale cellulosic ethanol production and will demonstrate the immediate commercial viability of cellulosic ethanol.
These are great projects. I’m particularly interested in the Chinese projects, given the country’s concern over the use of corn for ethanol production. Let’s also keep in mind that a country such as China, which is vulnerable to water scarcity (even more so with climate-change events), wants to minimize its use of irrigation on crops devoted to fuel. This could potentially be a huge market for SunOpta. Notice also that SunOpta has these projects spread out in key market representing North America, Europe and China.