Who’s ready for prime-time, who’s on the way? The Cellulosic biofuels survey

November 26, 2014 |

BD-cellulosic-readiness-2The Digesterati — that’s you! — look at cellulosic biofuels and viability in this detailed Digest survey. What do you think of when you think of some of the top brands — what are your expectations, and concerns?

The readers speak!

In this Digest survey, we asked you to rate a representative selection of cellulosic biofuels technology providers — primarily, which technologies you feel have are the most commercial viability, either now or some time in the future.

In this first question, we asked you to rate companies based on viability.

Don’t know

In most cases, your honest answer was “don’t know” when asked about viability. Most of these companies have a long, long ways to go in convincing you that they are viable now, or ever.

But it is clear that several made significant progress in reducing uncertainty since June — with the average “uncertainty factor” coming down by an average of 16% in the past 4 months. The strongest in that respect? POET-DSM, GranBio, DuPont, CoolPlanet and Abengoa — not surprising, since CoolPlanet and DuPont are constructing first commercial plants and POET-DSM, Abengoa and GranBio opened their first commercials in 2014.


Never will be viable

Two technologies stand out from the rest in the “never will be” department — the long-delayed Mascoma and ZeaChem projects. Just as project completion has a strong role in reducing uncertainty, project delays have an unsurprising relationship to the “never will be” bucket.

Skepticism rose for 16 of the 19 technologies as a wehole, though, showing a higher degree of tire-ticking and “show me” in readers’ minds these days. The ratings for “never will be” went up by 7 points or more for Cobalt, Fulcrum, INEOS Bio as well as Mascoma and ZeaChem.

Commercially viable, but not now


The “not now” ratings went up for 17 of the 19 technologies, but the average increase in shorter-term skepticism was only 5 percent. In many cases, the change in “not now” ratings can be seen as a migration from “don;t know” and thus in a generally positive direction, rather than a “negative migration “from “viable now” or “best in class”.

The “not now” ratings jumped the most for American Process, Coo Planet, Enerkem, GranBio, INEOSBio, Iogen and ZeaChem. Beta Renewables and Abengoa bucked the tide on this question, with Beta staying in the same position and Abengoa decreasing its total for this option.

Commercially viable now

Here’s the sweet spot for technologies — the belief that they are “ready fro prime time”. But only four technologies scored over the 30 percent mark here — Abengoa, Beta Renewables, DuPont and POET-DSM, with Granbio not far behind at 24 percent.

Six technologies were big movers between June and November: Abengoa, Beta Renewables, DuPont, Enerkem, Granbio, and POET-DSM. That’s not surprising given that this is the wave of technologies opening in this momentous 12-month period for cellulosic biofuels.

Overall, seven technologies scored under 10 percent here — a warning sign that, if the technologies are in fact viable, there’s some communications to do with stajeholders: Cobalt, Cool Planet, Edeniq, Fulcrum, Green Biologics, Mascoma and ZeaChem. Absence of commercial-scale plans are the typical culprit here, although Cool Planet is an exception as a stealthy technology that has substantially advanced towards scale.

Best in Class


Nirvana indeed to be considered the best of the fleet. Interestingly in June, only 37% of voters put any of the 19 technologies surveyed into that category, and no one received higher than POET-DSM’s 7% rating. In November, POET-DSM and Beta are co-leaders with 13 percent, roughly double in both cases. But all technologies moving forward towards commercial-scale improved a lot in this category between June and November: Abengoa, DuPont, Granbio as well as POET-DSM and Beta Renewables.


We asked, for some of the technologies, what the concerns might be for those who were skeptical and rated a technology either “not viable now” or “not viable ever”.


Options for “concern” included: Capex/opex (reported in the blue band); Feedstock costs (reported in the gold band); Feedstock availability (reported in the purple band); insufficient rates, titers, yields (reported in the green band); and viable market for the products (reported in the red band).


Overwhelmingly, the concerns related back to capex and opex, which were cited by 29-54 percent of respondents, and was the number one source of skepticism for every technology save one (Borregaard, for which the chief concern was rates, titers or yields).

Speaking of yields, that was the second-most cited concern for each of the 20 technologies we asked this follow-up question for.

For 10 of the 20, feedstock costs were the next most important area of concern, with 6 opting for “feedstock availability” and 4 thought that “viable market for the products” was the third most-important concern.

What do you think of when you think of a brand?

We asked a question we never had before” For each company listed below, what ONE attribute most describes that brand? In this case, we looked at five companies with technologies at commercial-scale, or under construction or in commissioning for commercial-scale.


In this case, each reader could choose only one attribute so, a low rating does not imply that this is not a brand attribute for a given company, but that it is a less compelling one than another one.

For Abengoa and DuPont, the most popular attribute was “commercially-viable”; for POET-DSM and Novozymes, the most-cited attribute was “leader”. In the case of Solazyme, the term that resonated the most was “innovative”.

See the complete results

The complete results can be viewed, here:

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