Government pledges $385M for cellulosic ethanol
March 8, 2007
"These biorefineries will play a critical role in helping to bring cellulosic ethanol to market, and teaching us how we can produce it in a more cost effective manner," Department of Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman said in a statement. "Ultimately, success in producing inexpensive cellulosic ethanol could be a key to eliminating our nation's addiction to oil. By relying on American ingenuity and on American farmers for fuel, we will enhance our nation's energy and economic security."
The six projects, which will cost $1.2 billion once private money is included, are the Abengoa Bioenergy Biomass plant of Kansas which will produce 11.4 million gallons of ethanol annually using corn stover, wheat straw, milo stubble, switchgrass, and other feedstocks; the ALICO, Inc. plant of LaBelle, Florida, which will produce 13.9 million gallons of ethanol a year using yard, wood, and vegetative wastes and sugar cane; the BlueFire Ethanol, Inc. of Irvine, California, which will produce about 19 million gallons of ethanol a year using green waste and wood waste from landfills; the Broin Companies plant of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, wich will produce 125 million gallons of ethanol per year, of which roughly 25percent will be cellulosic ethanol from corn fiber, cobs, and stalks; the Iogen Biorefinery Partners, LLC plant of Arlington, Virginia, which will produce 18 million gallons of ethanol annually using agricultural residues including wheat straw, barley straw, corn stover, switchgrass, and rice straw as feedstocks; and the Range Fuels plant of Broomfield, Colorado, which will produce about 40 million gallons of ethanol per year and 9 million gallons per year of methanol using wood residues.
Cellulosic ethanol fuels environmental concerns. In recent months, high fuel prices and national security concerns have sparked interest in biofuels. Cellulosic ethanol, which can be derived from virtually any plant matter including farm waste, looks particularly promising. The U.S. Department of Energy projects that cellulosic conversion technology could reduce the cost of producing ethanol by as much as 60 cents per gallon by 2015. Green groups see cellulosic ethanol as a carbon neutral energy source that could be used to fight the build up of atmospheric carbon dioxide responsible for global warming.
Switchgrass-based ethanol could cost $1 per gallon, reduce foreign oil dependence. Genetic engineering of switchgrass, a native prairie plant, could reduce the price of ethanol to $1 per gallon according to a plant geneticist at the University of Rhode Island. Dr. Albert Kausch says that switchgrass could trump corn, which is currently the dominant source of ethanol in the United States due in a large part to rich agricultural subsidies. In a news release from the University of Rhode Island, Kausch notes that "switchgrass can be grown on marginal soils, is useful as wildlife habitat, and requires little use of fertilizers, insecticides or irrigation." Further, ethanol derived from the plant can help reduce American dependence on foreign oil.
High oil prices fuel bioenergy push. High oil prices and growing concerns over climate change are driving investment and innovation in the biofuels sector as countries and industry increasingly look towards renewable bioenergy to replace fossil fuels. Bill Gates, the world's richest man, has recently invested $84 million in an American ethanol company, while global energy gluttons ranging from the United States to China are setting long-term targets for the switch to such fuels potentially offering a secure domestic source of renewable energy and fewer environmental headaches.
This article uses quotes and information from a DOE news release and prior mongabay.com news articles.