Stealthulosic: Many cellulosic biofuels technologies rate low in visibility survey

July 21, 2014 |

cellbio-072214-topDigest survey spells “low visibility” for cellulosic biofuels.

Beta Renewables rates “best in class”. Dupont rates “most heard of”.

Belief is big in “commercial eventually” but far less so for “commercial now”.

For 18 out of 20 key cellulosic biofuels technologies, fewer than 10% of biofuels stakeholders report that they have a “through understanding” of the technology, and fewer than 50% have “some understanding” for 17 out of 20 key technologies.

Those are the headlines from the Digest’s Cellulosic Biofuels Survey — as the Digest launches a follow-on survey to add new companies, and investigate where and why the visibility gaps exist.

The Hard Data: Visibility

The first thing that strikes you, in reading the results from our cellulosic biofuels survey — is how little the broader stakeholder community understands or is familiar with the technologies. Visibility is poor to very poor, almost across the board.

Ranked by “thorough visibility”


Ranked by “good visibility”


Ranked by “some visibility”


Ranked by “heard of”


Visibility, visualized

(blue = “Never heard of”, gold = “Heard of, unfamiliar”, purple = “Some familiarity”, green = “Good familiarity”, red = “Thorough familiarity”)

cellbioc-072214-1 cellbioc-072214-2

The ratings were poor for “thorough understanding” of the technology. In our survey, the median result was 4.58%. The highest ranking was Beta Renewables at 10.42%, with POET-DSM close behind.

For 17 out of 20 technologies, 25% or more of respondents — generally drawn from “industry insiders”—  have never “heard of” a given technology. Only POET-DSM, DuPont and Abengoa escaped this fate. More than 80% of respondents had “heard of” DuPont, Abengoa and POET-DSM.

Only for 9 out of the 20 technologies did 20% or more readers feel they had a “good understanding” of the technology. There — the field narrowed somewhat. Inbicon, Iogen, INEOS Bio, Mascoma, Enerkem and Beta Renewables reached the 20% threshold alongside Abengoa, DuPont and Beta. Checking in at below the 15% threshold for a “good understanding” were Green Biologics, American Process, Fiberight, Fulcrum Bioenergy, and Virdia.

The Hard Data: Viability

For these results, we eliminated the votes that came in marked “Don’t know”.

Only three technologies have convinced more than 50% of readers that they are “viable now”. Only eight have convinced at least one-third of the respondents of the same.

Ranked by “Viable now”


Ranked by “Viable ever”


Ranked by “Best in class”


Viability, visualized

(blue = “Not familiar enough to rate”, gold = “Never will be viable”, purple = “Viable, eventually”, green = “Viable now”, red = “Best in class”)

cellbioc-072214-3 cellbioc-072214-4

#1 for “best in class”? That’s Beta Renewables, checking in at a 12.7% rating, with POET coming in second, DuPont third, Enerkem in a strong 4th and Abengoa in 5th.

Rated viable now (or best in class)? In this panel of the results, POET-DSM took the honors, with 61.04% responding that the technology is “viable now, or best in class”. Second was Beta Renewables, followed by DuPont, Abengoa, and Enerkem.

Rates viable ever? This is probably the bottom line for investors. Here. belief is quite. Here, DuPont and POET-DSM shared the honors at an astonishing 97.85%, with Abengoa just slightly behind at 95.41%, followed by Beta Renewables at 93.85% and Enerkem at 91.40%

Every technology surveyed received a 69% or higher rating for “commercial someday”. 16 of 20 reached 75%, 14 of 20 reached 80% confidence and 9 reached 85% percent confidence or higher.

The Bottom Line

No wonder the RFS is in such trouble, especially in the case of cellulosic biofuels. The technologies are almost unknown, even in their own industry.

Two key takeaways.

1. Visibility is low across the board, but especially at a “good understanding” or better, for the technology, where there is a huge drop-off in awareness.

2. Belief is quite high in the long-term prospects of most of the technologies, but low for “now”.

The lack of awareness is troubling. We’re deeply concerned that the technologies may have not broadened their visibility sufficient to sustain support amongst a broader set of stakeholders. It takes a village to build a cellulosic biofuels plant. For now, the village is in the dark.

Next steps

We’ve heard from a number of companies that had wished their technologies to be surveyed as well. And we’d like to probe a little deeper into the data to find out exactly where the visibility and viability gaps lie. So we have set up a somewhat expanded survey – one extra question, and some extra companies, here via

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