Abengoa Bioenergy

Abengoa Bioenergy and Innovation

Abengoa Bioenergía Nuevas Tecnologías (ABNT) was formed in early 2003 with the goal of positioning Abengoa Bioenergy as an innovative leader in the bioenergy industry. ABNT’s mission is to develop innovative technological processes to produce bioethanol and its coproducts.

ABNT engineers and scientists, in cooperation with research and development centers, universities and industrial partners, develop innovative processes to raise the performance of bioethanol via dry mill technologies, improve coproduct quantity, develop new coproducts, and evolve technology to convert biomass into ethanol and improve its coproducts. In addition, the team leads conceptual design and regulatory oversight as regards sustainability throughout Abengoa Bioenergy’s three territories.

ABNT’s business strategy involves developing and registering intellectual property rights to provide technology to third parties under management agreements. 


Abengoa Bioenergy Innovation Highlights of 2010

Abengoa Bioenergy New Technologies´s mission is to engage in scientific and innovative endeavor to develop and demonstrate sustainable technological solutions that fulfill the aims of Abengoa Bioenergy’s strategic plan:

  • To develop biomass technologies and bring them to the market at competitive prices.
  • To raise the value-added of existing coproducts and develop new coproducts.
  • To improve on current dry mill technologies.
  • To define management systems (procedures and technological solutions) that assure compliance with biofuel sustainability requirements.
  • To encourage the development of energy crops.
  • To develop the biomass market.
  • To develop biofuel end-use programs.
  • To develop and improve new enzymes for cellulose breakdown.
  • To develop carbon capture technologies using microalgae.

 For the use of new raw materials as sources of carbon, the company’s efforts focus on enzymatic hydrolysis, gasification and catalysis processes.

The company has conducted extensive research on enzymatic hydrolysis at its pilot plant in York, Nebraska. Having acquainted itself with the process and operating procedures, Abengoa Bioenergy New Technologies has set in motion a second-generation 1.3 Mgal (5 ML) ethanol demonstration facility at Babilafuente (BCyL). The data thus collected is critical for developing the design of the first industrial facility using this technology, now being implemented as part of a project funded by the United States Department of Energy.

In the field of gasification and catalysis, over the course of 2010 the company continued its ambitious program to develop heterogeneous catalysts for converting synthesis gas into ethanol. The company has filed applications for two Spanish patents over groundbreaking catalysts that have improved on the prior art. It has continued to develop technical and economic models and analyses for various configurations of thermochemical conversion of biomass, and to explore the different options for introducing biomass gasification technologies.

The company’s pilot plants are constantly evolving. It has introduced improvements to the starch-based production process so as to raise the performance of ethanol/grain conversion, and is also experimenting with new enzymes to assess potential improvements to performance and reductions in impact. Major progress has thus been made in output performance as measured by liters of ethanol per ton of grain.

Abengoa Bioenergy has also worked on the development, evaluation and validation of new processes to recover value from the coproducts of cereal-based bioethanol production, with special emphasis placed on improving coproduct consistency, enhancing protein digestibility and concentration, and developing pig and free-range poultry feed.

In the sustainability and strategic consultancy area, a highlight has been the design, development, and subsequent application for approval from the European Commission, of Abengoa Bioenergy’s own voluntary scheme (RBSA) by which to demonstrate compliance with statutory requirements under the Renewable Energy Directive 2008/29/EC. In addition, work continues on designing and improving sustainability management and strategic development systems and supporting interaction with stakeholders.

According to data compiled by the Joint Research Center (JRC), raw materials account for 60 to 70 % of the production cost of biofuels, and 30 to 40 % of greenhouse gas emissions over biofuel life cycles. Abengoa Bioenergy is working on four distinct projects in the field of raw materials: Analyzing and identifying the most sustainable raw materials at the global scale; assessing potential local supply of biomass to Abengoa Bioenergy’s facilities in Europe; developing software to track and assign greenhouse gas emissions and monitor the additional sustainability indicators for the raw materials used in the biofuel production process; and selecting the most suitable species for both first- and second-generation technologies.

Fully aware of the environmental benefits of using biofuels, the company is undertaking e85 and e95 demonstration programs and research aimed at developing stable ethanol-diesel blends to satisfy the requirements of gasoline and diesel engines. These demonstration programs for new applications of ethanol as the end product have focused on implementing the use of ethanol diesel blends (or e-diesel) in captive fleets of heavy vehicles: Buses and worksite machinery. Fuel analysis has focused strategically on obtaining knowledge on the stability of blends, performances on engine bench and durability of the engine components when e-diesel is utilized. The various studies and demonstrations using e-diesel have shown a reduction of up to 70 % in visible smoke, up to 40 % in particulate matter, and up to 30 % and 6 %, respectively, in carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.

Another concept the company’s efforts are focusing on is biorefining, through which products with market value will be obtained from biomass. The company is developing integrated concepts that combine first- and second-generation technologies to identify and select high value-added products that can be derived from biomass and to integrate enzyme production and microalgae-based carbon capture facilities within bioethanol production plants.

The significance of biocatalysts - or enzymes - in the biochemical route to biomass-based ethanol production has led the company to dedicate a specific line of research to developing optimized enzymes more effective at reducing consumption and thus cutting costs. The company is working on isolating and achieving the expression of the genes underlying enzymatic activities, isolating and improving producer microorganisms, characterizing and optimizing enzymatic mixtures, optimizing operating conditions and raising productivity. These lines of research are all geared towards lowering production costs and reducing enzyme dosage. The enzymes now in development are achieving outstanding performance and offering the lowest costs on the market per liter of ethanol output.

After preliminary assessment of the potential for using microalgae cultures to capture the carbon dioxide generated by prevailing production processes, the company set in motion an ambitious development program to isolate, improve and select carbon capture and biofuel production microorganisms, develop laboratory-scale techniques to cultivate and process these microorganisms in biofuel settings, optimize production systems so as to attain viability, develop post-cultivation processes of conversion into target products, and, finally, integrate the productive process with industrial activities. The company has already started up the first operational pilot reactor at its Cartagena plant.

Most significant projects

Cenit I+DEA

Abengoa Bioenergía Nuevas Tecnologías is leading the I+DEA (Spanish “Investigación y Desarrollo de Etanol para Automoción”) initiative, funded by the CDTI as a Cenit project.

The goal of this project is to position Spanish industry as a leader in the production, use and technology of bioethanol as a biofuel. As a result, the company will seek to introduce bioethanol into the Spanish fuels market as a key step towards compliance with the objectives set by the European Commission in Directive 2003/30/EC of 8 May 2003, and later in the Renewable Energies Directive.

The project brings together 25 companies and 27 research centers and has a total budget of €28.2 M. Group players were selected on the basis of scientific excellence, multidisciplinary range and multi-regionality. Members are drawn from agriculture and seed production, biotechnology, energy, automobiles and transportation. The researchers and research centers involved are located across Spanish territory, and constitute a network of scientific and technological excellence. 

Cenit SOST-CO2 

The SOST-CO2 project, funded by the CDTI’s Cenit program, aims to develop sustainable industrial applications to harness the carbon dioxide generated by industry. The solutions being worked on range across the full spectrum of today’s industry: Chemicals, energy, renewable energy, food, services, etc.

Under the leadership of Carburos Metálicos and the public-private hybrid center Matgas (partnering Carburos Metálicos, CSIC, UAB), the project involves a consortium of 16 companies, including some of the leading Spanish players, such as Repsol, Iberdrola, Agbar and Ros Roca, and a number of technology-based SMEs. The number of research teams in play amounts to 28, while the total budget stands at €26 M.

7 Urban bus using bioethanol in Madrid, Spain

 Abengoa Bioenergy’s role in the SOST-CO2 project focuses on two key efforts that aim to transform carbon dioxide generated by fermentation processes: To develop technologies to produce bioethanol from carbon dioxide in various catalytic processes; and to transform carbon dioxide biomimetically in microalgae so as to produce biofuels and other value-added products.

FP6 Biosynergy 

The Biosynergy project is an integrated project funded by the European Union’s Sixth Framework Program, and focuses on utilizing biomass for synthesis of bioproducts - chemical and/or material - together with the production of secondary energy carriers - transport fuels, energy and/or CHP - through development of biorefining. The research is focused on advanced and innovative development of fractionation and conversion processes, combining biochemical and thermochemical pathways, and development of the process from laboratory scale to pilot plant scale.

The project coordinator is ECN, and the consortium comprises companies such as Dow Europe, VTT, biorefinery.de, CRES, the Universities of Aston and Delft, among others.

ABNT’s role is to develop the concept design for a bio-refinery plant to convert lignocellulosic biomass into ethanol and high value-added coproducts, based on the biomass ethanol plant that Abengoa Bioenergy is already operating in Salamanca (BCyL). The company is also in the process of producing the necessary data to evaluate various options for biomass fractionation by physical or chemical means. 

8 ABNT researchs on new uses of biomass

PSE (“Unique Strategic Project”) 

Fast-growing energy crops are used to produce biofuels or energy in various forms, such as heat and electricity. Abengoa Bioenergy intends to produce ethanol from energy crops grown in Spain, including high-starch alternative raw materials and other lignocellulosic biomass types.

ABNT is thus working on cooperation projects to develop energy crops, including a number of “Unique Strategic Projects” (Spanish “PSEs”) funded by the Ministry of Science and Innovation via the European Regional Development Fund.

This project involves cooperation on producing and characterizing energy crop biomass and the logistics of biomass supply and certification, in particular, traceability and certification of biomass for producing second-generation bioethanol.

Projects such as this provide a strong boost to new energy crops, optimize the use of conventional crops for bioethanol production, and develop the energy crop market in a sustainable way.

Hybrid Project 

Abengoa Bioenergía Nuevas Tecnologías is leading the implementation of this initiative. The main objective is to design, construct and operate a 380 ML commercial biomass and starch hybrid plant.

The specific objectives of the project include:

  •  Demonstrating the commercial feasibility of the biomass-to-ethanol conversion process.
  • Confirming that the technologies developed can be adapted to existing and future plants.

 The subsidiary ABNT has been selected to design, construct and operate the US DOE’s large pilot biorefinery. A grant from the DOE will partially fund the project. The biorefinery will adjoin a starch ethanol plant, forming a hybrid complex in Hugoton, Kansas, USA.

The bio-refinery will boast a processing capacity of at least 700 t per day, and will comprise two sections - an enzymatic hydrolysis (EH) section and a gasification section. The EH process will convert biomass (400 t/day) into ethanol, lignin, and livestock feed, whereas the gasification section will convert 300 t of biomass per day into syngas, which will be burned to generate steam. The steam will be used internally within the biomass plant, with any surplus being sold to the adjacent starch plant.

Milestones Achieved:
  • Secured a DOE grant worth $38 M for the phase 1 contract.
  • Hired staff and rented offices for the project.
  • Signed property management and water supply agreements.
  • Pro forma approval secured for the starch/biomass hybrid plant.
  • Obtained approval for pre-construction of the project and the EPC program.
  • Completed the enzymatic hydrolysis and gasification simulation model.
  • Selected the starch technology.
  • Selected and engaged architecture and engineering consultancy firms.
  • Completed the engineering phase of the project.

FP7 Bioref-integ 

The Bioref-integ project, funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Program, studies and develops bio-refining concepts based on existing industrial fuel production complexes in order to enhance their competitiveness with coproduction of new products. The project addresses various sectors of the market: Bioethanol, biodiesel, pulp/paper, oil refining, energy production, the food industry and the farming sector. The bio-refining concepts developed as part of the project are then assessed in terms of their technology, economic features and emissions profile.

The project coordinator is ECN, and the consortium comprises companies and institutions such as AFSG, VTT, ETC, Repsol, the University of Kent and the University of Aston.

Abengoa Bioenergy’s goal is to help identify existing industrial complexes in the bioethanol sector and potential coproducts, while developing bio-refining simulation models for integration within the bioethanol sector.

The project, which was successfully completed in June 2010, identified new opportunities for developing ethanol in the field of bio-refining. 

9 2nd ethanol demonstration plant at Babilafuente, Salamanca

PlanE DemoE2

The overall goal of the project is to lay the foundations for the transition to second-generation ethanol production technologies at the demonstration plant located at Babilafuente, near Salamanca in Spain, which has the capacity to produce 1.3 Mgal (5 ML) of bioethanol annually from wheat and barley straw.

Specifically, the project pursues the following technological objectives:

  • Demonstrating the technology to produce lignocellulosic ethanol at a commercial scale.
  • Producing enzymes at an industrial scale for use at the ethanol plant.
  • Undertaking technological development activities in connection with the process implemented at the Babilafuente plant (Salamanca, Spain) so as to reduce the operating and capital costs of the process, via:
    • Optimizing the enzymatic hydrolysis stage.
    • Reducing the severity of the thermochemical treatment of biomass by wholly or partly replacing it with biological treatment.
    • Developing a microorganism that co-ferments C5 and C6 sugars so as to eliminate some of the fractionation stages.


New Projects


 The Lignocellulosic Ethanol Demonstration (LED) project, funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Program, embraces the design and construction of a bio-refinery plant to produce second-generation bioethanol using cereal-crop straw for use in public vehicle fleets, enhance the enzymes involved in cellulose hydrolysis, and utilize the lignin contained in the raw materials to make high value-added products.

Led by Abengoa Bioenergía Nuevas Tecnologías, the project involves four other companies from different countries: Green Value, from Switzerland, TNO, from the Netherlands, Communauté d’Agglomération de Pau-Pyrenées (CDAPP) and Communauté de communes de Lacq (CCL) from France.

The LED project lends the necessary continuity to the technological development required for raising the industrial production of second-generation ethanol to a commercial standard. In this endeavor, Abengoa Bioenergy has successfully completed major milestones, such as building a demonstration plant with the capacity to produce 1.3 Mgal/Year (5 ML/year) at Babilafuente, near Salamanca in Spain, with the support of the European Union within its Fifth Framework Program.

The objective of the LED project is to design, build and operate a plant producing 50 ML annually of ethanol using lignocellulosic biomass. This four-partner project is led by Abengoa Bioenergía Nuevas Tecnologías. 

Cenit BioSos

The Cenit BioSos (Biorefinería Sostenible) project aims to cover the biomass value chain end to end, from generation of the resource to marketable end products, with particular focus on undertaking studies and developing tools to ensure that the proposed solutions are sustainable.

Funded by the CDTI’s Cenit program, Cenit BioSos has a total budget of €27.6 M and is divided into five activity areas: Raw materials, sugar- and gas-based transformation processes, bio-product production, and horizontal sustainability analysis.

The aim is to develop a technology able to support the design of innovative, integrated bio-refining processes for energy production and bio-product synthesis, while an ancillary activity is to analyze the economic, environmental and social impact of the proposed solutions.

Abengoa Bioenergía Nuevas Tecnologías is partnered by major companies such as Ecocarburantes Españoles, Acciona, Azvi, Guascor, Green Source (Sniace), Carburos Metálicos, and Técnicas Reunidas, and small technology-based or highly specialized firms such as Neuron, Solintel, Biópolis, Gairesa, Industrias Omar and Krafft, which contribute high-caliber expertise to the project team. 


Recently awarded as part of the European Union’s Seventh Framework Program, the BIOfuel From Algae Technology (BIOFAT) project is currently in the process of being negotiated. The aim of BIOFAT is to demonstrate the industrial viability (at a scale of 10 ha) of algae-based biofuel production. The bio-refining concept will be used to recover value from algae biomass fractions such as biodiesel and bioethanol. This eight-partner project is led by Abengoa Bioenergía Nuevas Tecnologías.


The project titled “High-Efficiency Bio Catalysts for Second-Generation Bioethanol (BIOCAT2ndOL)” aims to develop high-efficiency biocatalysts for lignocellulosic biomass hydrolysis in order to optimize the second-generation bioethanol production process. Specifically, the target is to reduce the cost impact of the biocatalyst from the current €0.40 per liter of ethanol to a figure in the vicinity of €0.10 per liter.

BIOCAT2ndOL is to be completed during the timeframe 2010-2011 via three main research areas:

  • Biocatalyst development.
  • Production with biocatalyst development.
  • Enzymatic hydrolysis and ethanol production.
The project involves the cooperation of several research centers and businesses, led by ABNT. Partners include ICP-CSIC, CIB-CSIC, Biópolis SL, and Neurón Biopharma.

PlanE SorgoSweet 

The project titled SorgoSweet (“Initiative for the Development of Sweet Sorghum Cultivation for Bioenergy Purposes”) aims to evaluate the potential of sweet sorghum (Sorghum bicolor (L.) Monech) as an energy crop in farming areas in the environs of the Ecocarburantes Españoles plant near Cartagena, Murcia province, Spain. A detailed study will be undertaken on the potential for adapting the crop to the agricultural and climatic features of the area and optimizing pre-fermentation extraction techniques.

This partnership brings together two companies and two research centers, led by ABNT, spread out across various locations in Spain, thus supporting local job creation and economic development. 


The project entitled ECOALGA (“Initiative for the Development of Microalgae Cultivation Systems for Bioenergy and Carbon Dioxide Capture”) involves the design and construction of a pilot plant to evaluate technologies for growing microalgae and cyanobacteria as raw materials for producing biofuels and animal feed and for sequestering carbon dioxide generated by fermentation in the bioethanol production process.

The project will be conducted on a lot owned by Ecocarburantes Españoles adjoining its ethanol plant. Carbon dioxide generated by grain fermentation for ethanol production will be the carbon source for algae cultivation.

The project involves several research centers and universities:

  • The Biomass Department of the National Renewable Energy Center (“Centro Nacional de Energías Renovables”).
  • The Chemical and Environmental Engineering Department of the Polytechnic University of Cartagena.
  • The Animal Production Department of the Veterinary Surgery Faculty of the University of Murcia. 

The ECOALGA (2010-2011) project is now at the engineering stage. Construction and commissioning are scheduled for 2011.

 10 Microalgaes offer a solution for the capture of CO2 as well as for the biofuels production