Ask the Experts: Where's All The Cellulosic Ethanol We've Been Promised?

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Many environmentalists have little love for first generation ethanol and for years we've been promised that the next generation of biofuels, made from waste cellulose, but we have yet to see it replace corn ethanol. Why is cellulosic ethanol moving so slowly?

Matt Merritt of POET answers,

"Five years ago Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, telling energy entrepreneurs that the market would be ready by 2010 for cellulosic ethanol if the business community could provide it. 2010 came and went with no significant volumes produced, and people began talking about how cellulosic ethanol was moving “slowly.”

Those targets in EISA were aggressive and ambitious, and I applaud Congress for setting them. You don’t accomplish great things by posing safe challenges. Challenges are supposed to be challenging.

Today, efforts to commercialize cellulosic ethanol are moving forward at a good pace. EISA is doing what it intended to do.

POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels in March celebrated the start of vertical construction of Project LIBERTY, which is designed to use corn cobs, leaves, husks and some stalk to produce 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year, growing to 25 million gallons per year. We’re not alone; a number of other companies have started construction on cellulosic biorefineries of their own, and many expect to be producing significant volumes in 2013. This progress was made despite an economic recession in 2008 that hindered investment in almost all industries.

The broad goal of tapping into our country’s vast biomass resources to offset fossil fuel use is still firmly in sight. In the end, if a significant volume of cellulosic ethanol starts coming online in 2013 or 2014, I’d still call that a success for the environment, economy and national security of the U.S.

Matt Merritt is a media relations specialist at POET, which has a network of 27 biorefineries in seven states with a capacity of more than 1.6 billion gallons of ethanol, 9 billion pounds of high protein animal feed and thousands of pounds of bio-based oils and lubricants.

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