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By Robert Rapier on Feb 13, 2016 with 39 responses

Cellulosic Ethanol Falls A Few Billion Gallons Short

Ten years ago a visionary named Vinod Khosla gave a presentation called Biofuels: Think Outside the Barrel. It seems to have disappeared from his Khosla Ventures website, but you can find an archived version here. In that presentation Mr. Khosla outlined his vision for biofuels. He projected that ethanol produced from biomass – aka “cellulosic ethanol” – would scale up rapidly. From zero commercial production in 2006, Khosla foresaw the first 100 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol hitting the market in 2008 (see Slide 78), ramping rapidly to 2.5 billion gallons in 2011, 14.6 billion gallons in 2015, and ultimately 173 billion gallons per year by 2030. Combined with corn ethanol production, he believed cellulosic ethanol could totally end U.S. dependence on petroleum for transportation fuel – but he needed to get the government on board to foot some costs.

Khosla addressed potential obstacles in his presentation. Certainly cellulosic ethanol wouldn’t fail because of technology. There were too many companies working on it. The magic of Moore’s Law and black swans would be the ticket to success. (As an aside, he doesn’t seem to understand the black swan theory, as he frequently cites these “high-profile, hard-to-predict, and rare events” as an expected outcome). The only real barrier he could identify was those despicable oil companies, who had to be shaking in their boots that this 100-year old upstart technology would spell their demise.

But he would deal with the oil companies through legislation by forcing them to purchase this product that had yet to be commercialized. So he lobbied, and he testified before Congress. He lost a vote or two, but he was instrumental in getting cellulosic ethanol mandates included in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The EPA was charged with implementing the RFS, and they based the mandated volumes on the amount that potential cellulosic ethanol producers claimed they would be able to produce. For 2010 the EPA was counting on 100 million gallons of cellulosic fuels based on claims primarily from two companies associated with Vinod Khosla: Range Fuels and Cello Energy.

This is ground that has been amply covered here before. Range Fuels and Cello Energy both went out of business after spending hundreds of millions of dollars — including taxpayer money — without delivering a drop of cellulosic fuel. In fact there were zero gallons of qualifying cellulosic ethanol production for 2010 and 2011. In 2012 the first qualifying batch of cellulosic ethanol was produced — 20,069 gallons by Blue Sugars Corporation. The ethanol was produced in April 2012, but that was it for the year. And Blue Sugars went out of business.

There was no qualifying cellulosic ethanol produced in 2013, the year Vinod Khosla had projected 7.2 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol production. But 2014 finally saw some qualifying production as several new plants came online.

INEOS Bio and its joint venture partner New Planet Energy had announced the opening of the Indian River County BioEnergy Center in Florida in 2012. The nameplate capacity of this plant was 8 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year. The House Committee on Agriculture was told in 2012 “The biorefinery is a major landmark for this country. It’s the first commercial cellulosic refinery.” But the EPA doesn’t show any production from anyone in 2012 or 2013, and in December 2013 the company issued a press release that said in part: “Bringing the facility on-line and up to capacity has taken longer than planned due to several unexpected start-up issues at the Center. These efforts have highlighted some needed modifications and upgrades.” Another update from them in 2014 cast doubt that they would ever produce any ethanol.

On July 7, 2011 the U.S. Department of Energy had announced a $105 million loan guarantee to POET for the development of its 25 million gallon per year corn cob-to-ethanol facility, dubbed Project Liberty, at Emmetsberg, Iowa. POET, one of the largest producers of ethanol in the world announced that they were open for commercial cellulosic ethanol production in September 2014. Cellulosic ethanol production had been slated to begin in May 2013, but more than a year later than projected Jeff Broin, POET Founder and Executive Chairman, stated “Some have called cellulosic ethanol a ‘fantasy fuel,’ but today it becomes a reality.”

Another company, Abengoa (NASDAQ: ABGB) built a $500 million cellulosic ethanol plant in Hugoton, Kansas. In October 2014 they announced the grand opening of the facility: “Abengoa’s new industry-leading biorefinery finished construction in mid-August and began producing cellulosic ethanol at the end of September with the capacity to produce up to 25 million gallons per year.”

A 4th company, Quad County Corn Processors (QCCP), claims they are producing 2 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol from the cellulose in corn kernels in a bolt-on process to a corn ethanol plant.

In October 2015 DuPont announced what was billed as the largest cellulosic ethanol plant in the world. The $225 million plant in Nevada, Iowa was designed to convert corn stover to 30 million gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol.

Thus the cellulosic ethanol revolution is well underway. To summarize the plants and their capacity:

  • INEOS – 8 million gallons per year. Announced start up in 2012.
  • Quad County Corn Processers – 2 million gallons per year. Announced first production in July 2014
  • POET – 25 million gallons per year. Announced start up in September 2014
  • Abengoa – 25 million gallons per year. Announced start up in October 2014
  • DuPont – 30 million gallons per year. Announced start up in October 2015

The initial mandate in the RFS had called for 3 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol to be produced in 2015. At the beginning of 2015 there were 4 companies all claiming to produce cellulosic ethanol. Nameplate capacity for the 4 companies was 60 million gallons per year. So how much was actually produced?

Last month the EPA announced total cellulosic ethanol production for 2015. The tally? 2.2 million gallons. That’s about 3.6% of the nameplate capacity on plants that cumulatively cost more than $1 billion to build.

Leaving DuPont out of the mix because they didn’t start up until late in 2015, it’s not even clear who is producing the ethanol. QCCP alone claims they are making 2 million gallons per year. It doesn’t appear that INEOS is producing any cellulosic ethanol at all. Abengoa filed for bankruptcy in November, shutting down its cellulosic ethanol plant.

What on earth is going on?

It’s simple really. This is a technical issue and an economic issue that has been known for 100 years. Ethanol can be produced from cellulose. The technology has been around a long time. This isn’t even the first time over a million gallons of cellulosic ethanol have been produced. It was done in 1910. But it’s very costly to produce fuel grade ethanol from cellulose. Thus, there have been many attempts to commercialize cellulosic ethanol since the early 1900′s, and every 20-30 years or so we forget why this already failed. So we saddle up and attempt to do it again. People think they are the first to discover fire, and they sometimes convince Congress to give them tax dollars to commercialize their “invention.”

The technical issues can obviously be addressed, or we wouldn’t see any production at all. It’s just that the solutions come at a high cost. So, I don’t think any of these guys will make any money at this. Certainly not when you consider the capital involved. I think you will see POET and DuPont persevere for a few more years, running at low capacities because they are losing money on every gallon they make. Then they will idle the projects, and we will chalk it up as a lesson learned. Again.

Link to Original Article: Cellulosic Ethanol Falls A Few Billion Gallons Short

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  1. By CharliePeters on February 13, 2016 at 2:05 pm

    Trump Loves GMO Corn Mandate

    • By Optimist on February 15, 2016 at 9:56 pm

      This episode id exactly the kind of stupidity that propel Trump’s campaign.

  2. By Gary Bridge on February 13, 2016 at 2:25 pm

    Nice recap in this detailed article RR. Kudos!!!

    Batch fermentation of cellulose using extra expensive enzymes plus adding on an extra three days time to a normal 4-day batch process just doesn’t pencil. Mother Nature’s own biobugs invade and can spoil every third batch which when things work correctly in the ligno-cellulosic world, provides about 1/3 the EtOH volumes as when fermenting the starch in scorn kernels.

    It is only the Carbon Atoms contained within cellulose and lignin (and corn starch, or milo, potatoes, sugar beets, sugar cane, etc.,) which are isolated and re-arranged into C2H5OH ethyl alcohol by enzymes and yeast organisms.

    So why not use solids gasification instead to much more efficiently isolate that basic Carbon Atom building block herein?

    • By Cellulose on February 13, 2016 at 8:16 pm

      Biomass gasification to liquids (GTL) has its own host of issues, primary of which is separating the syngas from the char and tars that are inherently generated during the process. The tars will poison the catalysts needed to reform the syngas. Removing those tars, while possible, is difficult, expensive and involves losing a substantial amount the fuel’s energy if the tars are not used elsewhere. Tar and char removal can cause up to 1/3 of the energy content of the fuel can be lost during the gasification process, so that, coupled with the expense of the back end Fischer-Tropsch process to generate the liquid fuel, makes for an even less economically viable process than cellulosic ethanol.

      Range Fuels, was actually a GTL process, and was so irresponsibly scientifically vetted that what little liquids were produced were primarily methanol.

  3. By Forrest on February 14, 2016 at 6:58 am

    Why would Dupont be heading up the lawsuit against EPA, if they knew their plant couldn’t produce cellulosic ethanol? Brazil has cellulosic plants and mostly from Shell oil investments. Exxon just announce investment with a biomass company for one pot process of fuel oil. Down the road from me, Marathon is a heavy investor in doubling Anderson’s ethanol production.

    Lot of R&D results that appear to impact algae and cellulosic fuel production for cheaper, quicker, and easier processing. Here is the latest: NREL and BESC discovery explains higher biomass degrading activity of C. thermocellum; potential boon for cellulosic biofuels. These enzyme complexes are an amazing machinery. They can include up to 63 biomass -degrading enzymes. One can think of a cellulosome as ananoscale octopus wrapping and digesting cellulose microfibrils from
    all angles.—Yannick Bomble, project leader and senior author.

    The supply side has equal promising news of lower costs, higher supplies, and environmental benefit. The western U.S. has a semi arid climate than is under evaluation for biomass. Not much plant growth on this huge acreage. Not a problem for some of the biomass plants. The logistics of ample and low cost feed stock appear to be solved? That was one of the biggest hurtles.

    The two billion gallon cellulosic ethanol from corn kernel is ramping up slowly. Not much money to invest within this financial climate. I read the typical payback must acheive better than 2-1/2 years. Wow, wouldn’t we all like some of that action? I always wondered why the CHP process wasn’t utilize as much. It’s expensive. They have great return on investment, but not the return they demand. These plants have a list of improvements for power generation. Some don’t want the distraction of yet another market. Since there is a wide array of processing plants, it’s very innovative technology. Amazing stuff to read of food, feed, CO2, chemical, power, and fuel product lines. With the CHP processes, and production stream per the waste heat, power production, algae ethanol, fertilizer, and biogas. Interesting that plants have increased value to local feed markets. Farmers pickup wet DGs that may have better nutrition value and at a cost savings to both farmer and processing plant. Same with local distribution of E85 fuel per cost savings and better margins at the pump.

    Seems that some just figured out these plants lie on great wind power zones. They can achieve higher carbon rating for ethanol fuel by utilizing on site wind generation of power. Carbon rating of corn ethanol has decreased 60%, meaning a good thing. Oh, corn has achieved a negative land use per the history. So, when is EPA going to award the credit?

  4. By CharliePeters on February 14, 2016 at 10:06 am

    California AB 32 GMO waiver may improve Climate law performance and may pay for free roads

    GMO waiver may lower CO2, NOx and ground ozone.

    • By Forrest on February 15, 2016 at 6:08 am

      So, oil supporters are offering State of California the extra tax revenue if only they quit using ethanol. The politics not concerned with high cost of fuel, but of ethanol? I don’t think they bought it or the voting public. The effort lost credibility when attempting to spin ethanol as high polluter of ground water and air.

      California is a good example on why not to be the bleeding edge of innovation. They pay a premium to push performance above average U.S. efforts. They would do much better job with taxpayer investment to work within the normal federal guidelines. The Valley is a special case where in air pollution is extremely sensitive. A good place for battery car and nuclear energy.

      • By Optimist on February 15, 2016 at 9:55 pm

        That’s right, California should follow Iowa’s lead!


      • By Brandon Iglesias on March 14, 2016 at 4:45 pm

        An average with some standard deviation requires deviation from the average. :)

  5. By Russ Finley on February 14, 2016 at 1:46 pm

    As I recall, the promise of his cellulosic ethanol was used as one of the arguments (along with energy independence among others) to support mandated corn ethanol consumption on the grounds that it would be a temporary bridge fuel, eventually being replaced with cellulosic. False arguments may eventually fade away but their results can linger if they lasted long enough to convince the idiots in congress to do something like permanently mandate the consumption of some lobbyist’s product.

  6. By Ajay Saxena on February 15, 2016 at 3:26 am

    This whole episode represents arrogance, of so called venture capital fraternity.

    This represents the pirate mentality of startup clan

    This is the proof of hands in gloves in between funds and their wasted interests

    Even the so-called hero of this entire broach up have not time to open read and respond an email of just one slide.

    This whole incident represents a Sanskrit verse “Vinash kale viprit buddhi”

  7. By Forrest on February 16, 2016 at 7:32 am

    As I understand the talking points against ethanol, to date, include the canard of fuel or fuel. The BTU rating of fuel is the only determinant of worthiness. The straw man tactic of stating if ethanol can not provide all the counties fuel needs, then ethanol is not worthy or if a way overly optimistic prediction does not pan out then the entire cellulosic technology is not worthy. How, about indirect land use, wherein only corn ethanol has a theoretical penalty. Like oil, hydro, or power lines never change the land use or impact the environment per energy production. More recently other clever boogeymen appear such as conflating GMO negative image with starch ethanol. Posters attempting a slight of hand with ethanol is the same as GMO. You know GMO will harm your health, don’t support ethanol. California prop 32 assault have long used the tactic. I read what appears to be robo postings now include Donald Trump. That is an easy guess of RNC and petrol teamwork of mutual interests. What is hard to understand, the posts of ethanol, that imply ethanol is a joke and not to be taken seriously. Well, I guess the competition doesn’t hold that view. Also, I don’t think the competition’s virtue, alone, is the stuff that motivates such expensive assaults on ethanol. You know to save our open market competition. Our nation places high value on competition, but consumers scratch their head and say wait a minute small business ethanol is the only competition to date of petrol has and petrol, as compared, is but a small cadre of International Corporations. How, abut the whining that it’s unfair that ethanol is popular since agriculture holds such support upon the nation. We should fear “big corn” and rely on petrol for the job of fuel. Ya, that has a long history of wealth creation at a price. Why did Bush put the nations priority to alternative fuel development including a long list of benefits such as improved economic stability, improved environment, and job creation?

  8. By Almuth Ernsting on February 16, 2016 at 10:31 am

    If I understand it correctly, Quad County seem to be defining 6% of their overall ethanol production at Galva as ‘cellulosic’ because of their additional whole stillage pretreatment added enzymes (see Without any obvious way of testing how much if any of the ethanol really is cellulosic. If that’s the case then how they could fail to claim 2m tons of cellulosic ethanol as long as their corn ethanol refinery keeps running? And if that’s true, would that mean the picture is even worse for the purpose-built cellulosic ethanol plants?

    • By Robert Rapier on February 16, 2016 at 8:52 pm

      Yes, you hit on something I have mentioned to others. It seems like the QCCP process leaves itself open to mischief. There may be some good ways of actually measuring how much of the cellulose was converted, but I am not sure how they would be able to determine if they weren’t converting any. I would love to take a close look at their operations.

    • By Russ Finley on February 16, 2016 at 11:36 pm

      A similar situation exists for biodiesel. Companies can claim it is made from waste cooking oil instead of food stock but are not required to prove it.

      • By Forrest on February 17, 2016 at 5:32 am

        The value of WCO or WVO conversion to fuel is apparently huge. Just a cursory check, the benefits include elimination of most undesirable pollutant upon waterways, waste water treatment, sewage pipes, problem waste disposal, non the less better tasting and healthier fat frying. This stuff has made a quick turnaround from being a problem to asset and has done so upon an international scale. One example, India had a history of high WCO problems. In the U.S. the industry is micro scale and provides a much needed service. Probably not a good use of tax dollars to utilize the coercive force of EPA to maximize accuracy. Statistics will suffice on keeping tabs of cheating. Were talking of millions not billions of gallons annual production.

  9. By daveswenson on February 16, 2016 at 8:21 pm

    Excellent summary of a point that we’ve been making in Iowa over the past year — the promise is not yielding product. Moreover, no one is talking about what is wrong, either at POET or whether DuPont has figured anything out. The only thing we hear is that they are producing “test batches.” We also have heard that stover supply contracts have been cancelled. But that’s it, just a bunch of hearsay.

    Still, I’m confused, as was one of your other commenters, as to why DuPont is challenging EPA on the cellulosic levels. From what I can tell, there is ample room in the current and likely future mandates to absorb cellulosic ethanol if they can make it. The limits are surely not the mandate or the EPA; to the contrary, they are the industry itself.

  10. By Roland on February 17, 2016 at 9:57 am

    POET in Emmetsburg didn’t actually start up until summer 2015, not too long before the DuPont plant.

  11. By Rod on February 17, 2016 at 9:41 pm

    We can watch the failures with disdain, and some people I suspect almost want this to fail, but in the end this is very bad news.

    We have no choice but to ween ourselves of fossil fuels. Even if we deny the environmental impact, it’s irrefutable that the stuff is going to run out. Meh, what’s the rush you say, plenty of time. Sadly, we don’t have that much time because the transformation will not be quick or easy.
    So the overriding question is, what choices do we have? If cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel are not promising, then what is?

    • By Forrest on February 18, 2016 at 7:08 am

      It’s not a fait accompli, where cellulose ethanol production is economically impossible. The current process plants are expensive and the ethanol produced as well. It’s not cost competitive (apparently) in current fuel market. Cellulose does need government subsidy for help in plant construction and the fuel does need RFS support for pulling demand. I would hope that the economics can get straighten out to pull these process plants into full production. The production is low, so the cost to fuel industry should be minimal. We need production to fully understand the processing. This will be a learning curve to make improvements and understand problems. Also, I would think these plants could be utilized for production run experimentation. Meaning I don’t think the process is close to optimal and much rework and re-plumbing needs to be done. Since the fuel industry is taking a hit with negative margins, it might be in taxpayer’s best interest to subsidize the venture. The payback could be enormous. We have a habit in this country to throw to much money at a problem, then wait for quick results. We often chose not to put the R&D upon a sustainable path of lower cost for success. Japanese are famous for charting very long courses for success and have learned to be patient with expectations of progress. We tend to snatch failure from jaws of success depending on the political popularity at the moment.

      • By Forrest on February 18, 2016 at 8:17 am

        Did you read of U. of Illinois Urbana and XOM research engineers “EMRE” are evaluating U.S. landmass for cellulosic feed stock plants such as Miscanthus. This company has good investment rating as their management understands they are in the energy business. They utilize their power of capital and influence to advantage the company. History depicts a company that is o.k. with competition suffering the expensive learning curve. The industry will check the progress, but allow the progression. Meaning allow the experimentation and development per their long term interests. The company can easily whack small business at will, but they may suffer image in doing so. No, best to stand back and play the victim. They may be reaching the point of maximum benefit if ethanol starts to fail and bankrupt. Lots of hardware and talent to purchase on fire sale. That’s the dream. Laugh all the way to the bank with confidence of business as usual. My guess they are happy to let farmers struggle with minimal wealth of feed stock. No money in that, but only XOM alone may be able to pull off the process technology of making ethanol from this feed stock. If the ethanol production can be locked up in such a fashion they will be investing. If the processing turns to simplicity, such as current corn ethanol and competitors can easily gain access they will only fight the progression of ethanol fuel and urge the republic to embrace another monopolistic process for fuel.

        • By takchess on February 18, 2016 at 10:24 am

          Following Miscanthus for a while. It is probably more interesting made into pellets for heating than liquid fuel.

  12. By Nick Simmons on February 19, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    Your claim that cellulosic ethanol is currently unfeasible because a producer that opened in 1910 closed around eight years later is disingenuous because the platform around which ethanol is made from cellulose at that time versus now is fundamentally different. You can degrade lingo-cellulose into free sugars using sulfuric acid, which is what standard alcohol did. The amount of sulfuric acid needed, it’s cost, and the process requirements are not comparable to the technologies today in which numerous technologies from enzyme pretreatment to yeast bioengineered consume cellulose compete with each other. Nothing comes easy, but one thing for sure is that nay-sayers and doubters rarely accomplish anything of value. That is left to people with ambition. There are always people who say something will never work, that it isn’t possible, that it can’t be done. That is what people said about powered flight before the Wright Brothers, that is what people said about computers in the 60′s, and that is what people said about solar panels in the 70s. Guess what, those people were wrong.

    • By Robert Rapier on February 19, 2016 at 6:02 pm

      “Your claim that cellulosic ethanol is currently unfeasible because a producer that opened in 1910 closed around eight years later is disingenuous because the platform around which ethanol is made from cellulose at that time versus now is fundamentally different.”

      And your claim that this is my claim is a straw man. At heart, cellulose is designed by nature not to be easily degraded. So in the process of doing so — regardless of the process — you end up with all sorts of cats and dogs you don’t want. They ultimately have to be dealt with, and that’s the source of all the problems with cellulosic ethanol. Every time commercialization has been attempted, that’s what stops it. Guess what they are struggling with this time around? I have first hand knowledge from people in some of these companies. Same thing they struggled with for 100 years.

      “Nothing comes easy, but one thing for sure is that nay-sayers and doubters rarely accomplish anything of value.”

      That’s ludicrous. Most great scientists and engineers are doubters. They are skeptics. This is how they sift what is worthwhile from what isn’t. That’s why they don’t go chasing pseudoscientific claims, or business based on a poor understanding of science.

      “There are always people who say something will never work, that it isn’t possible, that it can’t be done.”

      Vinod? Is that you? Yes, and there are those who reinvent the wheel on the taxpayers’s dime, all the while thinking they are doing the impossible.

      • By Forrest on February 20, 2016 at 7:15 am

        Much of this activity alive and thriving in the lucrative business of of GW science. To much politics, taxpayer dimes, and coercive government regulation to control the economy. Pull those attractants away from the science to understand the true danger of CO2 and artificial temperature change.

        Some of this has occurred in biofuel, but isn’t it interesting how legit some claim GW is? Especially when one understand the government funding supports the entire GW industry and these GW scientist have built their entire elitist authority and income upon this funding scheme. How, the politics have fully infiltrated every aspect and the record to date of data managing. How, can anyone claim this science is pure? It has high pollution and extra baggage.

        • By Forrest on February 20, 2016 at 7:56 am

          They didn’t have tools like this in 1910. Oak Ridge National Lab has created the largest bio-molecular simulation to date utilizing the massive computation of “Titian” super computer in an effort to improve cellulosic fuel production.

          Lignin: “not only does it bind to cellulose in the preferred locations sought by enzymes, but lignin also attracts and occupies the cellulose-binding domain of the enzymes themselves. That impedes the mechanism the enzyme has to anchor to cellulose. Thus lignin binds exactly where it is least desired for industrial purposes. This detailed knowledge of lignin behavior can guide genetic engineering of enzymes that bind less to lignin and therefore produce bioethanol more efficiently.

          —ORNL staff scientist
          Loukas Petridis

          The understanding of the science of cellulosic fuel is upon a steep curve of improvement. In general, the advances in biology and chemistry appear to be propelling our country to second wave of revolution, the biological. Cellulosic fuel has settled within the right time in history to achieve fruition. Historically, we read of inventions and ideas that appeared hundreds of years before modern science or technology can make them possible. This is normal progression to try and try again until success. Those expensive processing plants of cellulosic material will look much smaller in future and produce twice as much ethanol with simplified process that works in but a fraction of the time.

      • By Nick Simmons on February 21, 2016 at 12:22 am

        “What on earth is going on?

        It’s simple really. This is a technical issue and an economic issue that has been known for 100 years. Ethanol can be produced from cellulose. The technology has been around a long time. This isn’t even the first time over a million gallons of cellulosic ethanol have been produced. It was done in 1910.”

        This is the beginning of your conclusion. It states that modern day production of cellulosic ethanol is doomed to fail because it didn’t take off over 100 years ago using a different platform of production.

        If you wish to call my suggestion a straw man, you will have to re-write your article.

        The ability of cellulose to resist degradation is obvious and I am not sure why my statement warrants this reminder as a response. Conversely, while cellulose evolved to be difficult to degrade, countless organisms and enzymes have evolved to degrade it and subsist off of cellulose. Therefore your point is moot. Try eating some oyster mushrooms grown from sawdust. You are merely using them as an intermediary such that your body can ultimately obtain energy from cellulose; sawdust.

        Degradation products of cellulose, phenolic, furfural or otherwise, or the materials used to accomplish this, ionic liquid or otherwise, are not dead ends to accomplishing the end goal. If you want to talk about cats and dogs, go to a pound and adopt one; otherwise don’t be ambiguous.

        In regards to deductive reasoning, the scientific method, nay-sayers, and doubters; of course skepticism is used to weed out the bullshit. That’s why I’m questioning your article.

        You seem to be very concerned about a few hundred million dollars of our hard earned taxpayer dollars used to develop a solution to a very pressing problem, but I haven’t seen you write an article about the 2 trillion dollar escapade, funded by those same tax payer dollars, to seize petroleum from Saddam Hussein in a strange attempt to dig us deeper into that same problem. That should seem like a very appropriate topic for a website called “energy trend insider,” whose writers seem very concerned about government waste.

        If you want to moan about the impossibility of cellulosic degradation for the production of alcohols, please wait until 2 trillion dollars has been thrown at it.

        And no, I am not Vinod Koshla, so you will need to summon your hounds, mount your white horse, and continue searching for your dragon.

        • By Robert Rapier on February 21, 2016 at 1:06 am

          “If you wish to call my suggestion a straw man, you will have to re-write your article.”

          It is doomed to fail because regardless of the platform, the same byproducts are still gumming up the works. That problem is fundamental to extracting cellulose and breaking it down. So you have the byproducts poisoning enzymes, and you end up with a very dilute concentration of ethanol. Hence, big energy cost in cleaning it up. Same overriding problem for 100 years.

          “In regards to deductive reasoning, the scientific method, nay-sayers, and doubters; of course skepticism is used to weed out the bullshit. That’s why I’m questioning your article.”

          So then you do agree after all that many doubters have accomplished a great deal.

          “You seem to be very concerned about a few hundred million dollars of our hard earned taxpayer dollars used to develop a solution to a very pressing problem…”

          I am concerned about people without expertise in energy subverting our energy policies. More deserving projects were not funded because he smooth-talked Congress into funding a bunch of dead ends.

          “I haven’t seen you write an article about the 2 trillion dollar escapade, funded by those same tax payer dollars, to seize petroleum from Saddam Hussein in a strange attempt to dig us deeper into that same problem.”

          That invasion precedes this website, but you will find references here to my opposition to it. In fact, I wrote an article here on solar power pointing out that we could have put solar panels on half the homes in the U.S. for what that war cost. So you are barking up the wrong tree there.

          “We are therefore committing tax-payer dollars to ‘invent the wheel’ not ‘reinvent it.’”

          There is competition for tax dollars. Over the past decade, funding often went to whomever made the most outrageous claims. So we aren’t necessarily inventing the wheel that should be invented, we are throwing money in a direction that is highly likely to end up going down the drain. Like Range Fuels. And many others like it, that overpromised on the technology, and then failed to deliver.

          • By Forrest on February 21, 2016 at 8:03 am

            The natural toxicity of cellulosic breakdown is well documented and understood. The pretreatment process choice is concerned with enzyme poisoning as enzymes themselves being engineered to survive the hostile environment . All ethanol processes are being developed to improve alcohol concentration. So, your concern is basic to the ethanol industry and not a conspiracy of eventual doom to fool investors. It’s not a dead end venture or a fool’s errand, just a function of concern. I have read many an article of practices and chemistry improvement on this front. The main tool is the genetic engineering in which natures own microbes or fungus is tweaked to desirable traits and better outputs. The genetic technology itself has made tremendous advances that will speed up the research. Lots of excitement upon the R&D results that depict powerful tools to improve cellulosic processing such as pretreatment, speed of processing, consistency, and this on all fronts such as improved science of understanding, improved feed stock, equipment, methods, and all the rest.

            My understanding of the science is that the process is at production stage albeit with less than optional processing. It is still a slow process requiring much control and expensive inputs. The contaminants must be neutralized upon a manual custom process involving expensive adjuncts that bring no value to the end product . It looks that that businesses that own the equipment are up to the task of running production if they can cover the cost. Their is value in supporting the production per the usual understanding of real world experience including debugging, industrial efficiency, and maintain talent within the industry. As usual some of the most powerful solutions may be the basics of production improvements learned the hard way per trial and error. This will build upon the sum total of knowledge. Were talking of a relatively small investment that should prove invaluable. I would think expansion of cellulosic ethanol is not in the cards, but I read of competing processes have developed and building production. The international market for ideas and technology is alive and well. This is a lucrative developing market in which the U.S. would be foolish to pull the plug on.

          • By Nick Simmons on February 21, 2016 at 10:17 am

            I take your points, but still don’t think producing ethanol from cellulose is doomed to fail. It may prove time consuming and expensive to find the best way to accomplish the task, but I think it will eventually be done.

            What would be your opinion on, instead of using biomass to produce cellulosic ethanol, dumping it into anaerobic biodigesters to produce methane? Better investment?

            • By Robert Rapier on February 21, 2016 at 10:39 am

              There are 2 pathways that I think are more promising. Either just combusting or gasifying the biomass, in which case lignin becomes a feedstock for the rest of the process, or as you say anaerobic digestion.

              One of the reasons I have been so down on cellulosic ethanol is that the sugarcane industry can’t even make the numbers work, despite they fact that they have a bagasse disposal problem. Right there at their sugarcane plants they have crushed and washed bagasse piled high, and it is high in cellulosic concentration.

  13. By B Cole on February 20, 2016 at 12:31 am

    Robert Rapier–

    I am writing a story for a imagine and sent you an e-mail. I hope you got it.

    Benjamin Cole

  14. By Forrest on February 22, 2016 at 7:48 am

    I’m not buying what the author is selling. His post makes the claim of wasteful government spending upon a dead end fool’s errand of the cellulosic process for commercial ethanol production. The claim is, It’s an old recipe for failure, proven to costly long ago. That since current production is at a standstill reason enough to rate the endeavor as failure. Well, let’s not forget oil is selling at $30/barrel and not because of U.S. can produce low cost oil, but of international forces intent on harming adversaries. This at a time in history wherein the industry has invested a trillion dollars and some change per cheap bank loans whose chickens are coming home to roost. I don’t think the country should be alarmed over low cellulosic ethanol production. In comparison, the ethanol industry investment risk is small potatoes and appears to be sustained.

    Sixty or is it seventy percent of the oil rigs stand idle at the salvage yard providing cheap repair parts for the struggling active rigs. So, we know cellulosic is the most expensive process for ethanol production, who would be shocked that, for example, Brazil isn’t processing the bagasse to cellulosic ethanol and instead chooses to stockpile? The entire fuel industry is in the process to shore up bottom line to weather the economic storm.

  15. By TimC on February 25, 2016 at 10:39 am

    The lowest cost producer of cellulosic ethanol in the world is Raizen in Brazil, at $2.17/gallon, according to Lux Research (link below). Lux found that feedstock cost is about 40% of production cost, and corn stover is substantially more expensive than sugar cane bagasse. The Raizen plant uses the Iogen process: steam explosion, enzyme hydrolysis, co-fermentation of 5- and 6-carbon sugars with GM yeasts. It is a relatively small plant with capacity less than 25 million GPY. January rack price for ethanol in the US was $1.43/gallon.

    • By Forrest on February 26, 2016 at 6:51 am

      It’s a little better than that! Lux was bench marking the selling price, not the production cost. Also, they stated the coproduct of high energy lignen was not accounted for. This must be better than most thought? The way RR tells the story of impossible cellulosic fuel production, the feed stock is more expensive than what the fuel production is worth or that the processing is so expensive that even free feed stock wouldn’t make the cellulosic process cost effective. I guess reality a better measure. RR position has conflicting statements. He spins the ethanol industry as unworthy extra baggage that the petrol industry must support per regulation requirements, but goes on to say that the world has such energy needs that all energy production is needed. This is the position Exxon takes as well. Increased oil consumption is unstoppable, but we need to limit biofuel? The phony argument that the market or are engines can’t possibly combust more ethanol. Wouldn’t the rational position be, we need to maximize biofuel production and maximize the use of the fuel? It doesn’t make sense to state increased oil consumption is unstoppable and we we are in jeopardy of energy supply crisis, yet work so hard to limit ethanol production and sales. Especially, now that automotive expressed the need of clean high octane fuel. Ethanol octane’s boost actually makes plain gasoline more efficient as a result such a mix will magnify the environmental benefits of ethanol by 2x and do so while eliminating the carcinogenic compounds of petrol’s. So, ethanol doesn’t simple replace gasoline, it makes the fuel go farther. A win win situation for energy production with the addition win of lower carbon emissions and lower health harming tailpipe emissions. So, we health concerned taxpayers and fuel payers should demand more ethanol production and not follow petrol’s advice to limit the production to E10. I’m sure your aware of all the promising R&D for improving cellulosic fuel processing. These current plants the first stab with generation one production. Process, not bad at all.

  16. By CharliePeters on March 5, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    Trump and Clinton Love (BP-DuPont) GMO Corn mandate?

  17. By CharliePeters on March 5, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    Romney Loves (BP-DuPont) GMO Corn Mandate?

  18. By CharliePeters on March 5, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    (BP-DuPont) GMO Corn Waiver can improve ozone, CO2 and NOx and fund free road repairs

  19. By Craig Austin on April 14, 2016 at 7:43 am

    Would the ethanol produced cover it’s energy inputs for growth and production, or is this just a taxpayer funded way to pour diesel fuel into the ground for a little bit of alcohol?

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