The fledgling biofuels and bioprocessing industry in the South took a step forward on Jan. 25 with the formal commissioning of a pilot plant at the LSU AgCenter Audubon Sugar Institute.
This indicates success in several areas, said LSU AgCenter Vice Chancellor John Russin.
The infusion of federal funding will benefit the state and the sugar industry as well as the biofuels and bioprocessing industry and the rural economy, Russin said. “This is an amalgam of a true team effort.”
The pilot plant is part of a larger project funded by a five-year, $17.2 million grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture through its agriculture and food research initiative, said William Goldner, national program leader for sustainable bioenergy in the USDA Institute of Bioenergy, Climate and Environment.
The grant came as a result of a competitive peer review of proposals to create regional systems for sustainable production of biofuels and biobased products, Goldner said. “We want to enhance existing agriculture and improve opportunities for rural communities.”
Dedicated to producing biofuels and biochemicals from agricultural crops and byproducts, the pilot plant is the centerpiece of the AgCenter’s Sustainable Bioproducts Initiative, said AgCenter project director Vadim Kochergin.
It will focus on processing sweet sorghum, energy cane and other grassy feedstocks into convertible sugars, fiber and bioproducts for further refining into butanol, gasoline, isoprene and biochemicals.
The pilot plant is a scaled-down version of a typical sugar mill, said Juan Miguel Bueno, president and CEO of Manufacturera 3M, S.A. de C.V. in Cordoba, Mexico.
Bueno’s company fabricates sugar mills used in Louisiana, so his challenge was to design and produce the pilot plant.
“It’s exactly the same as a big mill but on a smaller scale,” Bueno said of the project that took about five months to engineer and manufacture.“By developing new things, we can produce new energy and new resources.”
The pilot plant is seen as a milestone for the project that Kochergin described as a “work in progress.”
“The facility can be scaled up to any capacity,” Kochergin said. “The focus is on primary processing of sweet sorghum, energy cane and other grassy feedstocks. We can facilitate projects targeting evaluation and validation of technologies as well as training of research and operating personnel.”
“This is a tremendous opportunity to identify potential feedstocks, not only for Louisiana but all of the South,” said Carrie Castille, associate commissioner for government affairs and science advisor in the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.
“This project will provide long-term, lifecycle assessment for continued crop production with respect to weather,” Castille said.
Louisiana is in a unique position for feedstock production, and lifecycle assessment will provide information on how various crops perform during different weather patterns, such as drought.
“The benefits this facility will give to Louisiana landowners is forward thinking,” said Klein Kirby, chairman of A. Wilbert’s Sons, LLC, a leading Louisiana land development company.“This is a huge tool for the Louisiana sugar industry, for the processors and for the landowners.”