Posts tagged “Vinod Khosla”
Ask and Ye Shall Receive
Last week, The Economist posed the following question: “What happened to biofuels?” The biofuels in question are so-called second generation biofuels that are produced from trees, grasses, algae, — in general, feedstocks that don’t also have a use as food. The appeal is obvious to anyone concerned about the world’s dependence on petroleum, and further worried that a major shift to biofuels will cause food prices to rise. So let’s address that question.
Entrepreneurs Revive a Century-Old Idea
About a decade ago, a number of entrepreneurs began to use their political influence to convince the US government that the only things keeping the US from running our cars on advanced biofuels was lack of government support, and interference from oil companies. These advocates eventually won over enough political support that state and federal governments began to funnel large amounts of taxpayer dollars into advanced biofuel ventures. President Bush spoke of running cars on switchgrass in his 2006 State of the Union address.
The federal government sought to deal with supposed oil company intransigence with a mandate requiring gasoline blends to contain growing volumes of corn ethanol initially, but starting in 2010 advanced biofuels as well. The federal government mandated that by the year 2022 the fuel supply had to use 36 billion gallons of biofuels, with 21 billion gallons coming from advanced biofuels. CONTINUE»
First Qualifying Cellulosic Ethanol
Last year, to much fanfare, the first batch of qualifying cellulosic ethanol was produced (i.e., it qualified for credits under the EPA program for certifying ethanol for sales). I reported on the development at that time.
Western Biomass Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Blue Sugars Corporation (previously KL Energy) reported the major milestone of claiming the first cellulosic ethanol tax credits under the RFS2 for a 20,069 gallon batch of cellulosic ethanol produced from bagasse (sugar cane waste) in April 2012.
However, regular readers are aware that for years I have been deeply skeptical that cellulosic ethanol as envisioned by — and ultimately mandated by — the US government will be an economic and scalable fuel option. The obstacles to success are significant, and I have described them in detail on many occasions.
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
With the recently announced foreclosure of Vinod Khosla venture Range Fuels, followed by the fire sale of Range Fuels’ assets to Vinod Khosla venture LanzaTech, I have been getting a lot of calls from reporters wanting to discuss exactly what happened here. After all, well over $300 million was invested into Range Fuels — including tens of millions of taxpayer dollars — and what resulted were assets that were ultimately bought by LanzaTech for about $5 million. Two articles were published over the weekend by journalists I spoke with last week: Georgia failure not the only ethanol misadventure Range Fuels fiasco: Finding renewal energy in Georgia forests didn’t work out This quote caught my eye from one of the articles:… Continue»
Recently it was announced that Range Fuels has gone into foreclosure, thus marking the official end of their story. For all practical purposes, the company has been finished since early 2011, but the foreclosure puts an end to the notion that they will yet rise triumphant from the ashes. Last week, Heather Duncan — a reporter for The Telegraph in Macon, Georgia — called me to discuss the Range story. She has just published an excellent summary of what went wrong at Range Fuels, and what lessons might be learned from their failure: Range Fuels failure raises the question: How much risk should the government take with taxpayer dollars? Here I want to excerpt some of the highlights from her… Continue»
Battle Over the Definition of Success in the ‘Cleantech’ Industry This past week PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel — who was also an early investor in Facebook — made headlines when he declared that “Cleantech is an increasingly large disaster that people in Silicon Valley aren’t even talking about any more. The failure in energy and transportation points to a larger failure in clean energy — we aren’t moving any faster, literally, than we were when modern airplanes first came out.” Those comments ruffled the feathers of Cleantech VC Vinod Khosla, who responded “Cleantech is not a disaster.” So who is correct? It depends entirely upon how one defines success: Over the last 12 months, Khosla has generated more than $1… Continue»
The Art of Spin Politicians are known for their ability to spin any situation to make sure it doesn’t present them in an unfavorable light. In that vein, I’m beginning to feel as if Vinod Khosla would make a fine politician. As much as I am tired of writing about him (and I am sure he long-ago grew tired of me writing about him), his recent response to a Wall Street Journal editorial called The Range Fuels Fiasco warrants its own response. While Khosla does not point a finger directly at me in his response, a number of readers e-mailed or commented on my blog that they believed Khosla was accusing me of misrepresenting his relationship with some of the… Continue»
Now that it seems that the mainstream media has finally caught on to the fact that something went terribly awry at Range Fuels, it is time for me to close the book on them. This will be my last Range Fuels story, but I think there is a lesson to be learned here. Waiting Until The Fat Lady Sang In the past week, an increasing numbers of stories have covered the Range Fuels affair. The Wall Street Journal’s take was the most high profile coverage: The Range Fuels Fiasco Vinod Khosla stepped in with his hand out. The political venture capitalist founded Range Fuels and in March 2007 it received a $76 million grant from the Department of Energy—one of… Continue»
Vinod Khosla Prognosticates Vinod Khosla is once more offering up his prognostications on the future of the energy business: What Matters in Biofuels? Given the likely continued dominance of the internal combustion engine, cellulosic and sugar-derived fuels offer one of the lowest risk advances to quickly and affordably achieve low-carbon transportation. I predict that long before 2022, half a dozen technologies within and outside our portfolio will be market competitive and will blow away the cost structure of corn ethanol. In the same article, he offers his view on those he deems energy Luddites: The old fashioned bias among traditionalists, mostly Luddites unfamiliar with the vibrant new research especially in startups, is that Fischer-Tropsch synthesis (FT) of liquid hydrocarbons from… Continue»
It is no secret that I have been a critic of Range Fuels — not necessarily of their technology but of their approach. I won’t rehash all of the issues I have had with the company; in a nutshell I felt they like were making claims that were very unreasonable, and taking in a lot of taxpayer money based on those claims. As a taxpayer and someone very concerned about energy policy, I spoke out on what I felt were serious deficiencies in the way projects get funded; namely that the companies that make the most outrageous claims are too often the ones that get funded. I also had my critics who insisted that I didn’t know what I was… Continue»