Doubts About Meeting Cellulosic Ethanol Goals

Cindy Zimmerman

Experts are expressing doubts the U.S. will meet targets for cellulosic ethanol production required under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, but the need remains to make it happen as soon as possible.

The legislation calls for the production of 4.3 billion gallons by 2015, but during a House Agriculture Subcommittee hearing this week, Dr. Howard Gruenspecht with the Energy Information Administration said, “It seems unlikely to us that you would get to those kind of levels by 2015, 2016.”

Gruenspecht says there are cellulosic ethanol plants opening up. “They will learn things from the initial plants and it will take some time for the standard to be developed,” he said. “It’s more complex than a corn ethanol plant.” He also noted that the industry needs additional funding for continued development.

Cellulosic ethanol company representatives were in Washington DC this week for the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO)‘s annual fly-in and one of their top issues in meeting with members of Congress and the administration was getting additional federal investment for advance biofuels. However, during a telephone press conference on Tuesday, BIO executive vice president Brent Erickson also admitted that the ambitious goals of the EISA for cellulosic ethanol will probably not be reached. “I think given the current economic turndown, the progress toward commercialization has slowed, and it is probably unlikely,” said Erickson in response to a reporter’s direct question as to whether the 2010 target for 100 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol will be met.

Still, the companies who are trying to make it happen remain optimistic about the future. “Given the long-term fundamentals for liquid fuels, the need is there,” said John Howe with Verenium. “This is not a discretionary activity. We have no choice but to pursue biofuels from cellulosics. We just need to do it the right way.”

Representatives from eight different advanced biofuels companies – Verenium, Aurora Biofuels, Abengoa Bioenergy, Gevo, DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol, Amyris, Mendel Biotechnology, Coskata, and Novozymes – all participated in this week’s fly-in and press conference.

Cellulosic, Energy, Ethanol, Government