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By Robert Rapier on Mar 28, 2012 with 12 responses

Vinod Khosla, Cellulosic Ethanol, and Biomass Fuel Pathways — R-Squared Energy TV Ep. 16

In this week’s episode of R-Squared Energy TV, I answer a few questions about pathways to biofuels, cellulosic ethanol, and Vinod Khosla. I have to apologize this week, because the microphone was a bit away from my mouth, so the volume is lower than normal.

Some of the topics discussed this week are:

  • Some of the commercially viable pathways for turning biomass into energy
  • The prospects for drop-in fuels
  • The shift in Vinod Khosla’s optimism over the past 5 years
  • What I think Vinod’s statements to the Wall Street Journal really signal


The Wall Street Journal interview with Vinod and Daniel Yergin that I referenced in the video is How Long Will Fossil Fuels Dominate? I should make one clarification, in that I mentioned that KiOR is making pyrolysis oil which then has to be upgraded. Their claim is that the oil they produce is partially upgraded, and if this is accurate it would place it somewhere between pyrolysis oil and hydrocarbon fuel. The product must still be upgraded, but I have never seen a characterization of what they are producing to get an idea of how much upgrading is required.

Readers who have specific questions can send them to ask [at] consumerenergyreport [dot] com or leave the question after this post (at the original source). Consider subscribing to our YouTube channel where you’ll be able to view past and future videos.

Link to Original Article: Vinod Khosla, Cellulosic Ethanol, and Biomass Fuel Pathways — R-Squared Energy TV Ep. 16

By Robert Rapier

  1. By Benny BND Cole on March 29, 2012 at 12:58 am

    OT, but amazing. A luxury car by major manufacturer that gets 56 mpg. Wow!


    Mercedes-Benz introducing diesel E 300 BlueTEC HYBRID with fuel economy of 56 mpg US; gasoline-engined E 400 HYBRID model to follow
    28 March 2012

    12C202_02 (1)

    E 300 BlueTEC HYBRID Click to enlarge.

    Mercedes-Benz isintroducing the new E 300 BlueTEC HYBRID; the luxury-class diesel hybrid offers fuel consumption of 4.2 L of diesel/100 km (56 mpg US), with CO2 emissions of 109 g/km. (Earlier post.) The E 300 BlueTEC HYBRID is based on the E 250 CDI, yet has a higher output and approximately 15% lower fuel consumption.

    This diesel hybrid will be available in the European market as a Saloon and Estate from the third quarter 2012. Daimler will introduce the Mercedes-Benz E 400 HYBRID—equipped with a V6 gasoline engine—into in the US market, and later in other countries such as Japan and China. In 2009, Mercedes-Benz introduced the S 400 HYBRID. (Earlier post.

  2. By Benny BND Cole on March 29, 2012 at 1:00 am

    And now a major manufacturer offers 70+ mpg…

    Ford begins production of new Fiesta ECOnetic with 71 mpg US
    26 March 2012


    Fiesta ECOnetic Technology. Click to enlarge.

    Ford of Europe has begun production of the new Fiesta ECOnetic Technology, which offers fuel economy of 3.3l/100 km (71.2 mpg US) and CO2 emissions of 87 g/km, at Ford’s Cologne Assembly plant in Germany. The preceding version of the Fiesta ECOnetic carried a 95 g/km rating.

  3. By perry1961 on March 29, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Turns out the Chevy Volt is a lot more popular in Europe than the US. Sold under the Ampera tag, more than 7000 were sold in the first month of sales. That’s about what the Volt did in the US all of last year. And, that’s with an Ampera price tag north of $40,000. Euros.


  4. By Risk_Transfer on March 29, 2012 at 2:05 pm


    Your biofuel discussion got me thinking about one of the key costs associated with biofuel production: getting the water out.  If I remember correctly, a fun analogy was having a lake full of soggy newspaper and you needed to get the water out before using the newspaper as a fuel. 

    My question relates more to biodiesel.  Drawing on your engineering experience, would it be possible to develop some sort of hydrophobic dessicant  to extract the fuel and leave the water behind?  I would liken it to having a pile of pencil shavings with some metal shavings mixed in, and I take a magnet to extract the metal shavings.  Less energy than burning the pencil shavings (or distilling off the water from the oil/water mix) to leave behind the metal.

    Appreciate your hard work here and look foward to your thoughts.



    • By Robert Rapier on March 29, 2012 at 3:10 pm

      Bill, there are molecular sieves and membranes that can be used to separate molecules based on size and/or polarity. They suffer from their own limitations though.


    • By CarbonBridge on March 30, 2012 at 1:15 am

      RR:  I enjoyed your TV response to Mr. Khosla and Mr. Yergin.  Thank you for sharing your thoughts…  Yes, Daniel would say we are swimming in new-found supplies of crude oil.  And Vinod would be MORE cautious in spending his millions and others 100′s of millions on ‘LIGNO-CELLULOIC ETHANOL.’

      Next day…maybe a surprise coming.


  5. By David on March 29, 2012 at 6:39 pm


    Nice clip, cant wait to see more. It seems cellulostic E is getting more attention these days.
    What is your take on Poet and Project Liberty?


  6. By perry1961 on March 30, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    I don’t foresee people waiting 25-40 years to get half our biofuel needs from alternative sources. At least not when it comes to transportation. The risk of supply disruption is there every day. There’s just no way we muddle through the next 25 years without severe consequences to the world economy when the disruption/shortfall comes out of nowhere. The transition to EV’s will pick up steam in the next few years. It will eventually take the danger out of peak oil we face now. We DO need the biofuels for industry,airlines, shipping, etc. etc. Plastics alone account for 10% of oil demand. Hundreds of other products are petroleum based. We absolutely have to have those alternatives in the next 25 years. Hubbert’s bell curve is unforgiving. The production decline is imminent. Thankfully, we can make it through those lean years by switching to EV’s, or even Prius like hybrids. NG will also help us over the hump. Folks need to understand that NG is a VERY short term solution though. The rest of the world pays 2-3 times as much for NG. If we had export terminals, which we will shortly, NG would already be priced more like oil. I’m just glad that everybody, from the President on down, now takes the problem seriously and knows change has to come.

    • By Optimist on March 30, 2012 at 9:55 pm

      Perry, there seem to be a disconnect in your logic. Shortage of oil, does not automatically mean a boom for biofuels. At the very least, we need feasible technology for biofuels. At $100/b, we’re still waiting.

      The more likely beneficiaries of high oil prices would be Natural Gas (at record low prices right now) and old King Coal. Established technologies offering investors are low risk, high return investment opportunity. Plastics can easily be made from either source, with minimal impact on overall consumption, or price. I believe US manufacturers are already lining up to convert NG to plastic.

      Biofuel, suffers from several conceptual problems, many of which seem to be a function of overzealous government involvement. Let me summarize by stating my beliefs:

      1. Using any agricultural land for biofuel (or any product that isn’t food, cotton very much included) is a crime against humanity. In a free market, that would never happen. Only government distortion makes theses crimes (temporarily) profitable. The latest attrocity: green plastic initiatives.

      2. Green is NOT = clean. The greenest feedstocks for biofuels are all dirty: municipal solid waste, sewage sludge and manure. The side benefit is that we clean up our environment free of charge.

      3. Ethanol fermentation is too slow and too picky an eater to get much play. Anaerobic fermentation may play a major role, but the big disadvantage is partial conversion. I see thermo-chemical conversions (similar to existing refining technology) as the way ahead.

      4. Biofuels will be owned by Big Oil. Of course, Big Oil is not monolythic. Shell invests in lots of renewables, ExxonMobil in almost none. I predict that somewhere in the next decade Shell is going to hit paydirt, and ExxonMobil will come running…

  7. By perry1961 on March 31, 2012 at 3:20 am

    Optimist, you need to understand that current NG prices are an anomoly. During normal times, NG would be selling for $10 a mbtu, instead of the current $2 and change. It’s no panacea. Once LNG exports start, NG will easily quadruple. And, when we start switching heavy transportation over to NG, and maybe making some of those plastics and other materials with it, you’ll see a 100 yr. supply shrink to 20 in a heartbeat. And yeah, we’re knee deep in coal in the US. But, that already trades at world market rates, and we export quite a bit of it. As oil depletes, that 100 yr. supply will quickly dry up also.


    To say growing anything we can’t use for food or clothing is a sin is a huge stretch in my opinion. Man has cooked and heated with wood for at least the last million years. I’ve never heard anyone call that sinful before. Fossil fuels can’t solve the problem of peak oil, or at least not for long. Thankfully, we’re moving in the right direction. I think we’ll find and use alternatives, and do it in a wise manner. We don’t have much else in the way of choice.

  8. By Al on April 1, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    I’m new to this site but so impressed with RR and the flow of dislogue that comes from his challenges and discussion. I hope I will be able to make  some contribution. Perry, I think everyone from the President down sees only the “Honey Pot”of money out there. The government ruling thisd week on coal generation should indicate how out of touch they are.

    I’ve been in this game for 15 years. My initial goal  was to reduce the amount of MSW giong into landfills. The process works great by reducing everything in the MSW waste stream, except glass and metals, to oil and carbon. We researched higher value uses gor these products. At that time the darling of energy was Hydogen production and storage. We even met personally with Mr. Khosla. Not interested. Maybe our presentation was lousy. Government meddling in this area doesn’t help either. DOE does not classify MSW converted to a fuel to be called “renewable”.       

  9. By Tim C. on April 2, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    Biofuels Digest reports that KiOR selected Natchez, MS as the site for its second plant, because “the site has river access for feedstock and product shipments, and natural gas pipeline and electric power already on site.”

    Why does a plant that will produce “renewable” crude need access to a natural gas pipeline?

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