Beta Renewables, a self-proclaimed global leader in cellulosic biofuels and part of the Mossi Ghisolfi Group, and Novozymes, the world’s largest producer of industrial enzymes, marked the official opening in Northern Italy of the world’s largest advanced biofuels facility.

It is situated in fields outside the city of Crescentino, and it is the first plant in the world to be designed and built to produce “bioethanol” from agricultural residues and energy crops at commercial scale using “enzymatic conversion.” The plant is designed to produce 75 million liters of cellulosic ethanol annually.

“The advanced biofuels market presents transformational economic, environmental and social opportunities, and with the opening, we pave the way for a green revolution in the chemical sector,” says Beta Renewables’ Chairman and CEO Guido Ghisolfi. “We will continue to commercially expand Beta Renewables’ core technology throughout the world, and we are very confident at this stage given the demand we see around the globe.”

The opening of the new plant was proclaimed as a leap forward and the true beginning of a new era for advanced biofuels by Peder Holk Nielsen, CEO of Novozymes.  

The plant will be using wheat straw, rice straw and arundo donax, a high-yielding energy crop grown on marginal land. Lignin, a polymer extracted from biomass during the ethanol production process, is used at an attached power plant, which will generate enough power to meet the ethanol plant’s energy needs, with any excess green electricity sold to the local grid.

"Policy makers now need to send clear signals to encourage the necessary investments in advanced biofuels,” said Peder Holk Nielsen. “Stable and predictable blending mandates, incentives for the collection of agricultural residues and investment support for the first large-scale plants will help move the world substantially in terms of reducing greenhouse gasses, stimulating economies and providing energy security. Continued reliance on fossil fuels is not viable.”

Beta Renewables and Novozymes claim their advanced biofuels platform for ethanol production is cost competitive. But more than $200 million was invested since 2011 in research and development of the technology used to make it possible for cellulosic ethanol production at the Crescentino facility.

The two companies see themselves as establishing an “entirely new, and very promising, industry.” Cellulosic ethanol facilities in the U.S. are not up and running to the scale or claimed financial success of the Crescentino facility.