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Cellulosic ethanol commercialization

Three phases of ethanol commercialization are emerging.

The first phase is based on traditional domestic production, economics and feedstocks - generally grown and sold near geographically agricultural areas. The second phase, based on the fast-changing globalization of ethanol trade, will involve multiple feedstock production, non-food fuel crops, and expanding production areas.[1]

The third phase is based on cellulosic ethanol commercialization which promises higher fuel production and investment returns per acre at lower costs.[2] If the promises of cellulosic ethanol commercialization are realized, then ethanol fuel may replace 20% of gasoline consumption in the USA, China and India by the year 2020.[3]


Cellulosic ethanol production

Main article: Cellulosic ethanol

Cellulosic ethanol is a new approach which can be produced from a diverse array of feedstocks. Instead of just taking the grain from wheat and grinding that down to get starch and gluten, then taking the starch, cellulosic ethanol production involves the use of the whole crop. This new approach will double yields and also have a smaller carbon footprint because the amount of energy-intensive fertilisers and fungicides will remain the same, for a higher output of usable material.[4][5] Many regions can be a producer of this fuel. Production of cellulosic ethanol is therefore viewed as a resource that can improve national energy security in countries without significant fossil fuel reserves, the environment and greenhouse gas mitigation, and rural economic development.[6]


Cellulosic ethanol production currently exists at "pilot" and "commercial demonstration" scale, including a plant in China engineered by SunOpta Inc. and owned and operated by China Resources Alcohol Corporation that is currently producing cellulosic ethanol from corn stover (stalks and leaves) on a continuous, 24-hour per day basis.[7]

United States

President George W. Bush, in his State of the Union address delivered January 31, 2006, proposed to expand the use of cellulosic ethanol. In his State of the Union Address on January 23, 2007, President Bush announced a proposed mandate for 35 billion gallons of ethanol by 2017. It is widely accepted that the maximum production of ethanol from corn starch is 15 billion gallons per year, implying a mandated production of some 20 billion gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol by 2017. Bush's plan includes $2 billion dollars funding for cellulosic ethanol plants, with an additional $1.6 billion announced by the United States Department of Agriculture on January 27, 2007.[8]

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is promoting the development of ethanol from cellulosic feedstocks as an alternative to conventional petroleum transportation fuels. Programs sponsored by DOE range from research to develop better cellulose hydrolysis enzymes and ethanol-fermenting organisms, to engineering studies of potential processes, to co-funding initial ethanol from cellulosic biomass demonstration and production facilities. This research is conducted by various national laboratories, including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL), as well as by universities and private industry. Engineering and construction companies and operating companies are generally conducting the engineering work.[9]

The maturing corn-to-ethanol industry has many similarities to the emerging lignocellulose-to-ethanol industry. It is certainly possible that some of the early practitioners of this new technology will be the current corn ethanol producers.[10]

On February 7, 2007 Range Fuels, Inc. announced it would build the first cellulosic ethanol plant in the United States in Treutlen County, Georgia. Founded by Menlo Park, California-based Khosla Ventures, Range Fuels estimates that this plant—combined with others to follow—will have the capacity to produce over 1 billion gallons of ethanol per year. The first plant will create over 70 new jobs for the area. Range Fuels also reports that cellulosic ethanol generate 16 times more energy than is required to create it. The plant could be the first step towards expanding the United States’ energy and fuel diversity and finding a cost effective alternative to petroleum.[11]


In Canada, Iogen Corp. is a leading developer of cellulosic ethanol process technology. Iogen has developed a proprietary process and operates a demonstration-scale plant in Ontario. The facility has been designed and engineered to process 40 tons of wheat straw per day into ethanol using enzymes made in an adjacent enzyme manufacturing facility. In 2004, Iogen began delivering its first shipments of cellulosic ethanol into the marketplace. In the near term, the company intends to commercialize its cellulose ethanol process by licensing its technology broadly through turnkey plant construction partnerships. The company is currently evaluating sites in the United States and Canada for its first commercial-scale plant.[12]

United Kingdom

A $400 million investment programme to cover the construction of a world scale ethanol plant and a high technology demonstration plant to advance development work on the next generation of biofuels has been announced by BP, Associated British Foods (ABF) and DuPont. The bioethanol plant will be built on BP's existing chemicals site at Saltend, Hull. Due to be commissioned in late 2009, it will have an annual production capacity of some 420 million litres from wheat feedstock.[13]


Abengoa continues to invest heavily in the necessary technology for bringing cellulosic ethanol to market. Utilizing process and pre-treatment technology from SunOpta Inc., Abengoa is building a 5 million gallon cellulosic ethanol facility in Spain and have recently entered into a strategic research and development agreement with Dyadic International, Inc. (AMEX: DIL), to create new and better enzyme mixtures which may be used to improve both the efficiencies and cost structure of producing cellulosic ethanol.[14]

Environmental issues

Cellulosic ethanol and grain-based ethanol are, in fact, the same product, but many scientists believe cellulosic ethanol production has distinct environmental advantages over grain-based ethanol production. On a life-cycle basis, ethanol produced from agricultural residues or dedicated cellulosic crops has significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions and a higher sustainability rating than ethanol produced from grain.[15]

According to US Department of Energy studies conducted by the Argonne Laboratories of the University of Chicago, cellulosic ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 85% over reformulated gasoline. By contrast, starch ethanol (e.g., from corn), which uses most of the time natural gas to provide energy for the process, reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 18% to 29% over gasoline.[16]

Future prospects

As crude oil prices continue to rise, advocates of cellulosic ethanol production prepare to bridge the gap between demonstration-scale plants and true commercial-scale facilities.[17]

See also


  1. ^ Ethanol 2020
  2. ^ Ethanol 2020
  3. ^ Ethanol 2020
  4. ^ Biofuels look to the next generation
  5. ^ Cellulosic Ethanol: Not Just Any Liquid Fuel
  6. ^ Cellulosic Ethanol: Not Just Any Liquid Fuel
  7. ^ Cellulosic ethanol
  8. ^ Cellulosic ethanol
  9. ^ Feasibility Study for Co-Locating and Integrating Ethanol Production Plants from Corn Starch and Lignocellulosic Feedstocks: A Joint Study Sponsored by U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of EnergyJanuary 2005, p. 1.
  10. ^ Feasibility Study for Co-Locating and Integrating Ethanol Production Plants from Corn Starch and Lignocellulosic Feedstocks: A Joint Study Sponsored by U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of EnergyJanuary 2005, p. 1.
  11. ^ Our First Cellulosic Ethanol Plant
  12. ^ Countdown to Commercialization
  13. ^ $400m investment in UK biofuels unveiled
  14. ^ Cellulosic ethanol
  15. ^ Countdown to Commercialization
  16. ^ Cellulosic ethanol
  17. ^ Countdown to Commercialization
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Cellulosic_ethanol_commercialization". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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