The Next Big Thing In Ethanol Yet To Reap Profits, Solve Technical Problems
by Amy Mayer (Harvest Public Media/NetNebraska) Advanced biofuels have been touted as the next step beyond the corn-based ethanol that’s the bulk of the country’s renewable fuel for cars and trucks. But cellulosic ethanol is harder to make and companies have faced other challenges.
Advanced biofuels have been touted as the next step beyond the corn-based ethanol that’s the bulk of the country’s renewable fuel for cars and trucks. These next-generation options were supposed to bring jobs to rural communities and provide farmers with fresh revenue sources, in addition to reducing the carbon footprint of vehicles.
Nearly a decade of federal incentives encouraged companies to invest in cellulosic technology, which produces ethanol from crop waste such as stalks, cobs and leaves left on fields after harvest, and at least three plants were built in the Midwest since 2014.
But cellulosic ethanol is harder to make than grain ethanol because it uses the inedible and irregular parts of the plants, meaning it was tough for machines to chew up the wet, heavy material. And companies faced other challenges, such as a steady supply, fluctuating markets and stalled policy decisions.
Here’s how the process works:
Where’s the Market?
The Environmental Protection Agency lowered the 2018 cellulosic mandate under the Renewable Fuel Standard, but not by as much as it initially proposed. And some states, including California and Oregon, have their own requirements for low-carbon fuels, which increases the market for ethanol.
Business consultant Michele Rubino expects other coastal states will follow in enacting low-carbon fuel mandates. But when it comes to companies’ interest in cellulosic, he says, oil prices are still a major factor. READ MORE