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Articles and Whitepapers

By Jeff Turner
August 2010

Integration and alignment between the project team and the owner's organization is fundamental to project success. Too often large, complex projects take on an independent identity without developing alliances and relationships with the rest of the business organization and key suppliers. The reach of project controls and information is biased towards the immediate project environment without the means or intent to include the broader organization. There are many reasons for this but the consequences of limited preparation and stakeholder input are the same. It leads to unknown variables and confusion.

Completing a production based project successfully is difficult. The degree of difficulty goes up significantly if the production process is new and unproven. The standard approach to overcome this difficulty is for the project team to identify specific tasks, arrange them in sequential order, assign tracking responsibilities and commence the project delivery. Picture a series of dominoes set up in one continuous pattern. There is one starting point and one ending point with a variety of pathways and interchanges in between. Ideally, the first domino is pushed over creating a sequential cascade ending with the intended results. Planning, preparation and attention to detail enable this.

Production based projects are infinitely more complex than a cascade of dominoes but the owner's expectations are similar. A project starts at a given point and concludes at a given point with the intention of achieving certain goals. The notable difference is in managing the planning, delivery and preparation for ongoing operations. Complex projects require focused attention on the numerous variables and interface requirements that must to be organized and managed through the process. This requires input and consideration by the people closest to those variables and interface points. It requires integration and alignment between the project team and the other key stakeholders.

Consider the following stakeholder groups.

1. The Owner's organization
2. The market
3. The raw material supply
4. The Project Team
5. Regulatory Agencies

Has the project planning process considered the questions, answers, expectations, concerns and organizational abilities of each of these groups? Are there defined plans to ensure a routine flow of information between each of these groups for the project duration? Will preparations be made to launch the newly created facility and products on a path of continued improvement and innovative success? Does the project have a clear understanding of what success means for all that are involved?

Answering yes to these questions implies a commitment to cover ground far beyond the immediate project organization. It will require time and resources, but the effort is worth it. A project's life cycle success is not achieved through the management of project controls alone. It's not just about ideal financing or fiscal responsibility. It's not just about the scope and schedule. Life cycle success of a production based project requires defined and specific participation from the broader business organization and key suppliers.

By Jeff Turner

January 2010

In 2010, the United States will have the capacity to produce approximately 13 billion gallons of ethanol annually. Revisions to the Renewable Fuels Standard as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, requires a total U.S. biofuel production capacity of 36 billion gallons per annum by 2022. The majority percentage of this production will be ethanol manufactured from cellulosic feedstock and others sources that meet the advanced biofuel requirements. The likely candidates must have a low carbon footprint, sustainable cultivation, provide appropriate energy return on energy input and not compete with food crops. Sweet sorghum meets these criteria. As a drought tolerant grass that requires limited fertilizer and insecticides, it is an ideal choice for arid and marginal locations that are not optimum for growing food.

Sweet sorghum is not new to North America. It was introduced in the mid 1800's and for well over 100 years was a staple in many agricultural communities. It was grown from Louisiana to Minnesota. Farmers planted it primarily for the sweet syrup extracted from the stalk and animal feed from the remaining foliage and grain buds. As the business of farming consolidated and grew beyond regional borders, competition from corn and higher value food crops pushed sweet sorghum cultivation to the extreme margins. This trend can and should be reversed. Research and academic institutions across the globe are defining the unique value that sweet sorghum brings to the production of ethanol. While it remains undesirable to replace food crops with energy crops, creative people are finding ample opportunity to grow sweet sorghum on marginal, abandoned and/or contaminated lands.

Sweet sorghum's advantages are not limited to cultivation opportunities. There are several reasons that make it an attractive choice. Unlike grain and cellulosic feedstocks, sweet sorghum juice does not need to be processed in order to release the sugars. It is simply filtered for impurities and then added to the fermentation process. This eliminates the energy intensive starch breakdown requirement and potentially offers low cost capacity to an existing grain ethanol plant. Likewise, sweet sorghum is an efficient producer of biomass. The grain and foliage can provide energy rich animal feed while the remaining biomass can be used for multiple purposes.

Typically sweet sorghum juice extraction methods follow traditional sugar cane processing. The stalks are crushed in a rotating mill, forcing the liquid to collect in a hopper. The juice is filtered and sent to the next stage while the "bagasse" is used for biomass combustion, feed or potentially paper pulp. A more contemporary approach is to separate the juice in a controlled process retaining specific plant materials and creating the opportunity for additional value added products. An example of this separation technology is the KTC Tilby separation system. Designed for both sugar cane and sorghum, the KTC Tilby system slices the stalk as opposed to crushing it. The controlled separation process limits the need for wash water and reduces overall connected horse power. The net result is clean sugar juice, wax, fiber, woody strands and minimal waste. This substantially increases the opportunities for by-product utilization and resale.

Sweet sorghum has a substantial role to play in the rapid expansion of ethanol biofuel. It does not need to compete with food crops, it is sustainable, it has a low carbon footprint, it has an outstanding net energy return and depending on the processing technology, it can provide additional value through co-product sales. Sweet sorghum is an ideal near term, advanced ethanol biofuel feedstock choice.


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