Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a series of stories featuring The Telegram’s top 10 news stories for 2014.
On Oct. 17, federal, state and local officials joined several hundred people to help international bio-energy company Abengoa celebrate the opening of its first commercial-scale, next-generation biofuel plant at Hugoton.
The story is No. 6 on The Telegram’s Top 10 Stories of 2014.
The occasion drew a variety of officials, including U.S. Secretary of Energy Dr. Ernest Moniz, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, former U.S. Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson, Kansas Senator Pat Roberts, Hugoton Mayor Jack E. Rowden and CEO of Abengoa Manuel Sánchez Ortega.
“We’re celebrating the opening of one of our nation’s very first commercial-scale, second-generation biofuels plant,” Sen. Roberts said during the event. “You can say Kansans are used to setting the standard for energy production, whether it be regarding conventional or renewable energy.”
In addition to high-paying jobs and economic benefit for southwest Kansas, the plant should provide a new source of revenue for Kansas farmers looking to sell plant residue that is unsuitable for products like livestock feed.
Construction of Abengoa’s new bio-refinery finished in mid-August and began producing cellulosic ethanol at the end of September. It has the capacity to produce up to 25 million gallons per year.
The plant utilizes only “second generation” biomass feedstocks for ethanol production, meaning non-edible agricultural crop residues, such as stalks and leaves, that do not compete with food or feed grain.
The state-of-the-art facility also features an electricity cogeneration component allowing it to operate as a self-sufficient renewable energy producer. By utilizing residual biomass solids from the ethanol conversion process, the plant generates 21 megawatts of electricity – enough to power itself and provide excess clean renewable power to the local Stevens County community.
Javier Garoz Neira, Abengoa Energy chief executive officer, said the facility is the first of its kind, and showcases the company’s unique technology.
The Hugoton plant also marks the first-ever commercial deployment of Abengoa’s proprietary enzymatic hydrolysis technology, which turns biomass into fermentable sugars that are then converted to ethanol.
Among the first wave of commercial-scale ethanol plants in the country, Hugoton builds on recent industry momentum showcasing cellulosic ethanol as a sustainable alternative fuel source that significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions and increases energy independence.
The company is also involved in the development of other bio-products designed to reduce petroleum use, such as bio-plastics, bio-chemicals and drop-in jet fuel.
Abengoa received a $132.4 million loan guarantee and a $97 million grant through the Department of Energy to support construction of the Hugoton facility.
At full capacity, the Hugoton facility will process 1,000 tons per day of biomass, most of which is harvested within a 50-mile radius each year – providing $17 million per year of extra income for local farmers whose agricultural waste would otherwise have little or no value. Of that biomass, more than 80 percent is expected to consist of irrigated corn stover, with the remainder comprised of wheat straw, milo stubble and switchgrass.
With a biofuels presence on three continents, Abengoa is an international biotechnology company – one of the largest ethanol producers in the United States and Brazil, and the largest producer in Europe with a total of 867 million gallons of annual installed production capacity distributed among 15 commercial-scale plants in five countries.
Abengoa’s overall presence in the United States – including its solar, water desalination, biofuels and engineering and construction businesses – has grown exponentially since the company expanded its business more than a decade ago. Some 26 percent of the company’s assets are in the United States, which is Abengoa’s largest market in terms of sales.