Cellulosic Biofuels – the plants, the projects, the progress: new AEC report

December 19, 2012 |

The Advanced Ethanol Council (AEC) released a progress report today on the development of the cellulosic biofuels industry. The release comes on the five year anniversary of the signing of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), and on the heels of Secretary Vilsack’s speech on rural innovation and economic opportunity at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The report, for the first time, provides detailed information about the facilities under development in more than 20 states and Canadian provinces. The new data includes each facility’s path to commercial deployment, capacity, feedstock and more, demonstrating that notwithstanding the global recession, the cellulosic biofuel industry is coming on line.

“It was just five years ago that Congress called for the aggressive deployment of cellulosic biofuels to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. We are pleased to report that the industry is breaking through at commercial scale, and is well on its way to becoming a major player in the American fuel mix,” said Brooke Coleman, Executive Director of the Advanced Ethanol Council (AEC)“This rapid progress is due to the Renewable Fuel Standard and to Secretary Vilsack’s and the Obama Administration’s leadership on the issue, ensuring the policy has remained stable and allowing investors to feel confident about committing the capital necessary to take the industry to scale.”

“Much has been made about the slow development of cellulosic ethanol,” added Bill Brady, CEO of Mascoma Corporation and Chairman of the AEC. “This report should put all that to rest. This is the cleanest, most innovative liquid fuel in the world, and the United States is poised to lead the development of this game-changing industry.”

The report points to the industry’s enormous potential. According to the Sandia National Lab, the U.S. could produce 75 billion gallons per year of cellulosic biofuels without displacing food and feed crops, or more than half of the 134 billion gallons of gasoline consumed by the U.S. in 2011.

Abengoa Bioenergy, one of the companies highlighted in the AEC report, is following a typical trajectory for a cellulosic renewable fuel producer. After constructing a pilot facility and a demonstration facility, in 2007 and 2009 respectively, they have broken ground on their first commercial facility, set for completion in 2013, in Hugoton, Kansas.

“We’re taking technology that we’ve been developing for some time, and turning it into a 25 million gallon per year operation, converting agricultural residues, prairie grasses, and dedicated energy crops into clean burning fuel,” said Chris Standlee, Executive Vice President of Abengoa Bioenergy. “After investing $450 million, this project will not only have a huge fuel output, but a huge economic one too, creating 300 construction jobs, 65 in operations, and another 120 related to getting the feedstock to the plant.”

The Council pointed the finger at oil companies for the misinformation about the industry. “The oil industry has seen 10 percent of its market share disappear in roughly a decade to American-made first generation biofuels,”explained Coleman. ”They spend tens of millions of dollars every year now trying to convince Americans that biofuels are bad and advanced biofuels aren’t coming. They do not want to see competition in the marketplace, but the RFS is working to create jobs and break our dependence on foreign oil.”

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