Blueprints of the INEOS Biorefinery | Courtesy of INEOS

Today marks the groundbreaking of INEOS Bio’s Indian River Bioenergy Center -- an integrated biorefinery near Vero Beach, Florida, designed to produce cellulosic ethanol and generate renewable electricity. Biorefineries convert biological matter, like wood scraps and grass clippings, into transportation fuels, as well as heat and power. The Indian River Bioenergy Center employs a breakthrough bioconversion technology decades in the making.

The project -- funded with $50 million in Recovery Act funding in 2009 as well as private capital -- is a joint venture from INEOS Bio and New Planet Energy that boosts the domestic biofuels industry. The technology in the new facility is a direct result of the Department of Energy’s investment in innovative research and development. The bioconversion process used by the facility was conceived in the late 1980s by Dr. James Gaddy. While serving as head of chemical engineering at University of Arkansas, Dr. Gaddy founded a small business dedicated to commercializing his novel bioconversion process. The Department of Energy recognized the promise of Dr. Gaddy’s research in its early stages and supported his work over the course of 15 years with small but strategic investments -- a total of $5 million between 1992 and 2007. The Department’s support ultimately enabled Dr. Gaddy’s success in obtaining a number of patents -- the core intellectual property purchased by INEOS in 2008.

The bioconversion process includes several key steps: vegetative and agricultural waste is reacted with oxygen to produce synthesis gas, consisting of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. The gas is cooled, cleaned, and fed to naturally occurring bacteria. The bacteria convert the gas into cellulosic ethanol, which is then purified to prepare for use as a transportation fuel.

Once fully operational, the center will produce up to eight million gallons of bioethanol per year. It will also generate six megawatts of electricity -- enough to run the entire facility year round and provide excess power to the surrounding community.

The Indian River Bioenergy Center is expected to support 380 direct and indirect jobs -- including 175 construction jobs -- and 50 full-time positions once fully operational. Planning for other facilities is already well underway in Lake County, Indiana and in Northeast England.

The Department of Energy’s Biomass Program is helping transform the nation's renewable and abundant biomass resources into cost-competitive, high-performance biofuels, bioproducts, and biopower. To learn more, visit the Biomass Program website.