As cellulosic ethanol looms on the horizon with the goal of producing ethanol from biomass, the questions are how much biomass is there and how much will it cost to convert to ethanol?
Nathan Danielson of Biocognito addresses those questions in a recent Ethanol Technical Update for the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC). Danielson cites a Department of Energy report that characterizes those biomass sources that are capable of producing one billion tons per year.
This study indicates that the largest single source of biomass in the united states is forestlands. Forestlands in the 48 states can produce 368 million dry tons of biomass annually.
The study also finds that agricultural lands could contribute 194 million tons of dry biomass in the form of corn stover, wheat straw, manures and other residues. So, they figure that we can come up with a good 500 million tons of biomass a year.
How much will it cost to make the ethanol out of it? Assuming a production level of 60 million gallons of ethanol per ton of biomass, the DOE report concluded that even if the feedstock cost $50/ton, ethanol could still be produced at a competitive level of about 83 cents a gallon.
Clearly there is a great deal of biomass available at a rate that is competitive to corn, however we need to determine the best way to convert it to ethanol. The big question now is what is the best technology to convert it? Will it be a fermentation route as DuPont and Broin, honda and Iogen are considering or will it be the syngas to ethanol route that abengoa is developing? The winning technologies have the potential to produce billions of gallons of ethanol per year and generate billions of revenue.