6 Signs Cellulosic Ethanol Is Making Progress


After reading “The Rush to Ethanol” report, we gave ethanol, particularly corn-based ethanol, a pretty hard time. But celluosic ethanol, which uses plant waste and non-food crops like switch grass, has received a lot of research and media attention in the U.S. recently. It’s able to avoid the food-vs-fuel debate and many consider it a key resource for a renewable biofuel future.

Researchers have been working on cracking the cellulosic code for years — since the 90’s according to this New York Times article. And large scale cellulosic ethanol production (15 billion gallons per year) is still another decade away according to Mark Holtzapple, professor of chemical engineering at Texas A&M in this interview.

But there has been some significant investment into bringing cellulosic plants online lately, particularly through government funds. Here’s 6 events that highlight how cellulosic ethanol is making progress in the U.S:


CS McPhee

Energy for distillation can be generated from the ethanol being poduced. For the first run, you may need a little fossil fuel. After that the cycle would be self perpetuating. THat is how the Canadian ethanolic plant based on a fungal fermenetative entry step functions.

Saying ,”it[cellulosic fuel source] will ALWAYS be a problem” and shading it as not posible is a flawed argument in the fact that it is an absolutist statement, and it discounts future advances in the technology.

Currently, the biosphere generates at least 10 to the 10th tons of cellulose per year, so biomass is not that “prescious”.

It is a solvable problem in the near term.

Gray Kinnie

The last comment was 11 months ago, but to answer a few: The waste products from the process can be burned producing more power than is needed operate the total process. Excess electricity it available from the operation.
When the processes are perfected, almost any plant waste will be usable as feed stock. Examples: Straw, Yard leaves, old new papers, yard clippings, garbage (excluding metal, glass, plastics….). In other words, things we pay to put in garbage dumps.
The processes are CO2 neutral because all carbon coming out of the process comes from CO2 removed by the feedstock from the atmosphere.
This past year, DOE has increased their grants. Eleven US companies are receiving funds Other companies like Gulf Ethanol are also working on this in a big way.

Jim Beyer

Even if cellulosic ethanol can be made to work from the standpoint of the enzymes, etc., you still have the problem of the distillation, that is, separating the water from the alcohol. This takes ENERGY. If you use natural gas, you are wasting a precious resource. If you use coal, you are creating much more CO2. If you use biomass, you are wasting precious biomass. There is no way around this problem, which is why ethanol will always be highly problematic as a fuel source.


I was wondering where switchgrass fell into the equation when I read your previous post about Ethanol. This clears it up some. Thanks!

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