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Biomass Power Slowed, but Pellets Proceed; Biofuels Projects Change Hands and Persist

The wood bioenergy sector in the United States continues its extended round of musical chairs.  As of January 30, 2012, Wood Bioenergy US reports that projected wood demand for all announced projects in the U.S. dropped 7.4 million tons year-to-date, a 6% decrease since December 2011. This is largely attributed to the removal of several large biomass co-fire projects from the Wood Bioenergy US database, particularly in Ohio. Utilities claim that biomass remains uncompetitive with other alternative compliance options (note: natural gas). Also, some coal units are scheduled to shut down to meet EPA MACT requirements.

In liquid fuels news, the USDA granted ZeaChem a conditional commitment for a $232.5 million loan guarantee from the 9003 Biorefinery Assistance Program. The loan guarantee could help fund a 25 million gallon/year commercial biorefinery. ZeaChem plans to build the commercial biorefinery at the same site as its demonstration plant in Boardman, OR. The company recently completed construction of the core operations at the demonstration plant and continues construction on the ethanol production units for a 2012 start-up. Meanwhile, LanzaTech purchased the former Range Fuels site in Soperton, GA for $5.1 million in a foreclosure auction. The company plans to use wood residues to produce fuels and chemicals. We continue to consider technologies to manufacture fuels from wood as speculative, until they perform at commercial scale.

Enviva’s first shipment of pellets left from the Port of Chesapeake on December 31. The vessel, bound for Europe, contained 28,000 metric tons of wood pellets. Enviva began operations at the Ahoskie pellet plant in November. Two additional plants are in the planning stages in North Carolina and Virginia; both will also use the same port.

For a complete Wood Bioenergy US summary of projects and associated wood demand, click here.

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