05/24/2012 04:29 pm ET

Sundrop Fuels To Build Nation's First Commercial Biofuels Plant In Louisiana

A Colorado-based biofuels company announced a partnership Wednesday to build what will be the nation's first commercial biofuels plant with an expected capacity for producing about 3,500 barrels of renewable gasoline per day.

Sundrop Fuels, Inc., based in Longmont, Colo., expects to break ground on the $450 million plant planned near Alexandria, La. in December, about 200 miles northwest of New Orleans.

According to the Longmont TimesCall, Sundrop's technology was partially developed at CU Boulder and the National Renewable Energy Laboratories.

A press release states the company is partnering with German-based technology and engineering supplier ThyssenKrupp Uhde to complete designs for the plant.

The plant will convert sustainable forest residues and thinnings with natural gas into bio-based "green gasoline" using a production path that integrates gasification, gas purification, methanol synthesis and a methanol-to-gasoline process. The planned result will be ready-to-use inexpensive car fuel.

Brent Shanks, a chemical engineer at Iowa State University who studies and develops the conversion from biomass to fuels tells Biomass Magazine that green gasoline provides an alternative to ethanol:

That's significant partially because, looking forward to biofuels, the key question is what is the right biofuel? Ethanol and biodiesel have been initially selected because the technology is known. As we go forward talking about second-generation biofuels, it's a broader picture we need to consider. It is important as a country to have a portfolio of approaches for second-generation biofuels.

Part of the problem with ethanol is a concern that it has to be diluted with gasoline to be useable in current engine systems, it's corrosive, and among scientists it's still proving to be a disappointment.

From a 2006 study by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America:

Even dedicating all U.S. corn and soybean production to biofuels would meet only 12% of gasoline demand and 6% of diesel demand.

Sundrop Fuels' process involves a high-speed radiant particle heat transfer, also called their RP Reactor, to gassify cellulosic biomass material at very high temperatures. The result is a molecular structure that looks like conventional gasoline, and the company claims it requires less water to produce.

The company plans to follow up the facility with larger-scale plants to produce a combined production capacity of more than one billion gallons by 2020.