Monday, August 10, 2009

Ethanol Glut Looms on the Horizon

At the recent Fuel Ethanol Workshop, several companies, including Coskata, Dupont/Danisco, Iogen, Lignol, Poet and PureVision, announced that they already have production from their demonstration plants or will within the year. Most are processing about 1 ton of material into ethanol daily. From that ton of biomass, they are producing between 70 and 85 gallons of biofuels. Commercial production is expected to follow in a year or two.

Coskata was the most aggressive and said it is so confident of the production system that the company has decided to start licensing its proprietary technology later this year. Coskata’s process is far more robust than it originally had estimated because the company can process cellulosic feed stock from agricultural sources, urban land waste, forests and even a wide variety of manufacturing wastes. The company also stated that once its process is perfected, ethanol from cellulosic sources would be price competitive with gasoline even without any federal tax credit. _NDSU
Ethanol was once the fuel of choice for internal combustion engines -- before gasoline and diesel production were revved up. But modern engine materials cannot withstand the corrosive effects of highly concentrated ethanol such as E85 or higher. Either the engines must change, or biofuels producers will need to move to less corrosive biofuels such as butanol.

Ethanol producers will soon far outrun the demand for ethanol fuels, as production continues to gear up. Tariffs against Brazilian ethanol currently protect American ethanol producers from competition, but once cellulosic ethanol hits its production stride, there will be no protection from the subsequent ethanol glut.

That is why it is critical for "ethanol" producers to quickly move to more rational fuels such as butanol -- or to promote the production of flex-fuel and E85 engine technology. Ethanol fuel cells might be another rational response to the ethanol : ICE mismatch that currently exists and will soon be exacerbated by overproduction of

Cellulose has marvelous potential for producing electricity, syngas, process heat and space heating, butanol, plastics, high value chemicals, etc. Focusing on ethanol is short-sighted, and will inevitably lead to more problems. It is time to begin looking beyond two carbon alcohol.



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