Abengoa Shuts Down US Biofuel Plants, St Louis HQ

In Kansas, Abengoa has decided to suspend production at its new cellulosic ethanol plant in Hugoton as well as its corn-based ethanol plant in Colwich as part of the recent financial troubles the company is suffering from what may eventually lead to bankruptcy. The company also plans to shut down its Abengoa Bioenergy headquarters in the U.S., based in St. Louis, Mo. The U.S. business represents about 10 percent of its global staff with 462 people.

It Was All Well, and Then It Wasn't

Last week, Biofuels Digest reported that despite Abengoa’s assurances that its ethanol plants are operating as normal, the market is concerned about the company’s ability to meet spot demand in addition to term contracts. This concern has helped to pushed up European ethanol prices beyond current two-year highs that have been sparked by a tight physicals market. Imports are expected in the new year while a few vessels have been chartered for December delivery, but it’s not enough to rein in the distressed market.

Import/Export Impact?

Biofuels Digest added the EU may turn to potential imports to help fill the supply gap withdrawal the major producer would leave, with the U.S. seen as the main arbitrage opportunity. Brazil’s export capacity is limited at the moment because its crush is ending and is entering the inter-harvest period when its own market is typically tight. It would take at least a month to bring the mothballed Ensus plant back online, leaving the market ripe for U.S. exports.

The Financial Hole Opened Just Before Thanksgiving

It was only last week that NASDAQ shares in Abengoa SA plunged 49 percent in one day (Nov. 25) after the embattled renewable energy developer said it would seek bankruptcy protection as it seeks to reorganize nearly $9.4 billion in debt. The protective filing was announced after an expected infusion of nearly $300 million from Spanish steelmaker Gonvarri did not materialize. Biofuels Digest reported on the insolvency proceedings here.

A Blow to the Cellulosic Ethanol Movement

The goal of the now-suspended Abengoa project in Hugoton, Kansas, was “to design, build and operate a commercial scale bioethanol facility that uses sustainable biomass feedstock, drastically reduces greenhouse gas emissions while achieving output production, yield and cost targets.” Biofuels Digest took you on an 8-Slide Guide tour of the technology and the Hugoton project here.

But the Obama Administration crushed cellulosic ethanol on Nov. 30 with news that they would not aggressively set cellulosic targets or bump overall ethanol numbers — leaving cellulosic projects in the unenviable position of competing for market share with first-gen ethanol.

Observers pointed to the EPA’s 230 million gallon target for cellulosic biofuels for 2016 — almost double the 123 million target for 2015 — but biogas producers as of September had ratcheted up production sharply and had reached a 160 million gallon annual rate, leaving not much headroom for either liquid cellulosic biofuels of any flavor.

The Fate of Hugoton?

Last word is that the technology is running, but not running continuously at the production rate Abengoa needs — so read this as “production suspended due to corporate financing woes” rather than “technology failure.” But we’ll wait to see the fate of the project, especially give the shutdown in St. Louis.

This article was originally published in Biofuels Digest and was republished with permission.

Lead image: Biofuels Digest.

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