Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and several area officials joined a Massachusetts company in a ground-breaking and ribbon-cutting ceremony recently for two facilities near Mermentau, LA, that will use agricultural wastes to make ethanol.

Celunol Corp., a privately held biofuels technology development company based in Cambridge, MA, will operate both facilities — one a demonstration-scale facility and the other, a pilot plant for research and development.

The demonstration facility will convert cellulose into ethanol when it's finished by year's end. Its patented process will use microorganisms and specialty enzymes to convert up to 95% of the sugars in biomass feedstock into ethanol. The plant will have a rated design capacity of 1.4 million gallons of ethanol per year, the company says.

The groundbreaking was for a plant that will use bagasse, the byproduct of sugar production, as its fuel, which will be provided by the Cajun Cooperative at New Iberia.

Louisiana farmers are already benefiting from the ethanol production, says Paul Coreil, Louisiana State University (LSU) AgCenter vice chancellor for Extension, with corn farmers in Louisiana expected to double their acreage from last year.

Peter Rein, LSU AgCenter professor at the Audubon Sugar Institute, says cellulosic ethanol is a proven technology. “The question is can you do it and make a profit?” Rein asks.

“We expect that the demonstration facility we are constructing will validate the economics of this process on a much larger scale,” says Carlos Riva, Celunol president.

Also at the ceremony the company cut a ribbon signifying the completion of a pilot plant for research and development, which will use a wide variety of feedstocks, including grasses, sugarcane and woodchips.