American interest in SEKAB’s cellulosic ethanol technology

The technology and processes to produce ethanol from non-food cellulosic biomass is fast reaching its commercial breakthrough and attracting substantial American interest. Diminishing oil reserves, climate threat, the aim to reduce dependency on foreign oil and a new President, who is investing heavily in renewable energy, is putting the spotlight on this next generation of alternative fuel, where Sweden’s SEKAB is at the leading edge.

Robert Silverman, Chargé d´Affaires at the American Embassy in Stockholm, the Swedish capital, recently visited SEKAB in Örnsköldsvik to study the exciting development of cellulosic ethanol technology. Driving the visit is President Barack Obama’s commitment to environmental technology – in his recent budget the American president allocated US$16.8 billion to developing alternative fuels.

The USA decided during 2007 to provide its market with almost 80 billion liters of ‘advanced’ alternative fuels by 2022. Cellulosic ethanol is predicted to comprise a substantial part of that volume.

“We are a world leading pioneer In developing the technology and processes enabling mass production of cellulosic ethanol from feed-stocks not used as foods, including residual parts of forestry (wood chips), which means that the USA is especially interested in what we are doing,” says Sune Wännström, head of research at SEKAB.

Discussions between SEKAB and the American Embassy in Stockholm were launched in 2007 by the former ambassador Michael Wood. SEKAB emerged quickly as a top name on the ambassador’s ‘One Big Thing’ list of Sweden’s leading edge bio-energy technology corporations.

“We are extremely interested in SEKAB’s cellulosic ethanol processes for production of the second generation of ethanol,” explained Silverman during his visit. “Ethanol fuel is a large market in the USA and is growing continually. We are convinced that cellulosic ethanol is right for the future and we look forward to working closely with SEKAB.”

Today production of green ethanol is based mainly on sugar cane, corn and wheat. But in the future Sweden will not be able to solely rely on the sugar cane based ethanol that comprises the bulk of the ethanol SEKAB currently imports. Nor can the USA increase its corn based ethanol production to a level that threatens use of corn in food. The large volume potential for ethanol lies in cellulosic ethanol, a very climate and energy efficient ethanol that can be made from residual forest and agricultural bi-products.

SEKAB has developed an industrial process for production of ethanol from biomass feed-stocks, including wood chips and sugar cane bagasse. An investment that has sparked major international interest. The development work is being carried out at an advanced pilot plant in Örnsköldsvik.

The technology will be gradually scaled up to commercial production in a new breed of bio-refineries within the next 4 – 6 years.

Photographs from the visit can be downloaded from the Press Room at