Blog Post

Garbage Will Lead the Biofuel Revolution

“Don’t let invasive biofuel crops attack your country” was the warning delivered by concerned scientists yesterday at a UN meeting in Germany. Scientists from the Global Invasive Species Program (GISP), the Nature Conservancy and the International Union for Conservation of Nature all warned that bioenergy crops could prove ecologically and economically disastrous, as many of the proposed energy crops are in fact invasive species. [digg=]

This warning could easily be aimed at entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, and be read as: “Don’t let invasive biofuel crops attack your business plan/investment.” Indeed, while Coskata and other cellulosic biofuel startups are stressing “non-food feedstocks,” perhaps the real next step is “non-crop feedstocks” — to that end, many biofuel startups are targeting garbage, waste and leftovers as feedstocks that are both low-cost and low-risk.

In their new report, “A Risk Assessment of Invasive Alien Species Promoted for Biofuels,” GISP lists 28 plant species already being cultivated for biofuel use that are classified as invasive. And “invasives,” as defined by the National Invasive Species Council, can be subject to stifling federal and state regulations.

This is a serious potential regulatory monkey wrench for the biofuel startups depending on America’s cropland being quickly converted to green waves of energy grasses. But it could be a boon for startups focusing on using waste products as biofuels. Agricultural wastes, like corn stover and sugarcane bagasse, are being targeted in the U.S. by startups like Mascoma and Coskata and in Brazil by Brenco and KiOR.

Coskata’s first biorefineries will use currently available feedstocks — wood chips, sugarcane waste and municipal trash. The company estimates that municipal waste could be used to produce 8-10 billion gallons of fuel annually. The untapped market of industrial waste could double that. “Industrial waste gases off of steel mills could provide another 10 billion gallons,” said Wes Bolsen, Coskata’s chief marketing officer and VP. “Those gases are exactly what Coskata’s microbes could eat. They’re burning bug food. Coskata is actively approaching steel producers to turn those gases into fuel.”

But Coskata still believes there’s a place for sustainably and safely grown energy crops. “The energy crop market is a few years away,” Bolsen told us. “We’re going to wait and see it develop in a sustainable way before we decide to build a $400 million biorefinery dependent on any one of those crops.”

The logical conclusion of this progression is Craig Venter’s much-vaunted “fourth-generation biofuels.” Venter has said that by next year, his startup, Synthetic Genomics, will be producing octane from the ultimate waste product – carbon dioxide.

GISP recommends risk assessment and information gathering before any country moves full-steam ahead with energy crop plantations. That might be a little late as both the U.S. and the EU have already passed legislation mandating increases in non-food biofuels. In the mean time, we haven’t seen anyone raise objections to using garbage as a feedstock…yet.

To read more on biofuels:

An A to Z of the Biofuel Economy

15 Algae Startups Bringing Pond Scum to Fuel Tanks

Primer: What You Need to Know About Brazilian Biofuels

15 Responses to “Garbage Will Lead the Biofuel Revolution”

  1. Steve Stout

    I plant jatropha by collecting seeds from existing local trees. Most of these trees are part of “living fences” that were planted by the Portuguese and others more than 300 years ago. For the most part, these trees have remained in nice neat rows for a very long time, so I’m a little surprised they are on the invasive list.

    We cherish every seed, so it is very unlikely that our trees will propagate off of our farms. Animals wont eat the fruit, so they won’t carry the seeds elsewhere. We also weed constantly, so rouge trees would be quickly dug up. It takes almost a year before jatropha trees start bearing fruit, so they will be fairly slow to spread.

    I could see grasses and reeds getting out of hand quickly. Much of the US is covered with European grasses and other invasive species. I love how we Americans are always giving out great advise on biodiversity and preservation of natural resources when our own country has been devastated. The USA bears little resemblance to the country that was here before European settlement.

  2. Not only because the “invasive” properties of that species, also because there´s uncertainty about future government regulations against this.

  3. Uncle B

    Bio-fuels and bio-diesel hybrid/electric cars that make these fuels go further are only part of the picture. We will have ridden ourselves of a major cause of all our cancers when we reduce petroleum use. The next step is depleted Uranium super batteries to make plug-in cars a workable option, reducing even further the demand for even bio-fuels.

  4. Chuck

    This is great news. There’s another company doing something similar. The founder is named Dr. Santilli, and he patented the gas he produces by organic wastes called MagneGas and he even renamed the molecules, magnecules. Not only is this clean energy but vehicles using MagneGas to power them produce oxygen while running. This is similar technology to HHO as described on

  5. There’s a company called Nanologix that’s been working with Welch’s Grape Juice to turn their waste-water into energy. They convert activated sewage sludge into hydrogen using bacteria, and the bacterial reaction is self-propigating because the bacteria double every 24 minutes. Very cool stuff.

  6. Bob Sackavotch

    Good thinking. We need new ideas and proposals for clean reusable energy. More funding for alternative energy sources. You know how much energy is produced each min by the Sun?? its astounding. We also need to stay energy efficient with our appliances and the products we buy. Look for energy star labels and buy eco friendly merchandise! is full of eco-friendly furniture. You know! do something good, be ProActive , Change the WORLDSSS