Whatever happened to jatropha, and all those other wonder feedstocks?

March 6, 2016 |

BD-TS-030716-wonderstocks-smAs we begin to prepare for the annual Advanced Bioeconomy Feedstocks & Supply Chain event in Miami this June, you might find yourself asking whatever happened to some of the feedstock darlings like jatropha. If jatropha faltered, never mind, went the argument, we’ll always have switchgrass. Or giant miscanthus, or pongamia, or poplar, or camelina. The list could get really long. For example, try this list of the 44 weirdest things ever converted in biofuels.

The good news is that a six-year Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) study on the viability of different bioenergy feedstocks recently demonstrated that perennial cropping systems such as switchgrass, giant miscanthus, poplar, native grasses, and prairie can yield as much biomass as corn stover.

The study is significant for beginning to address one of the biofuel industry’s biggest questions: can environmentally beneficial crops produce enough biomass to make their conversion to ethanol efficient and economical?

The not-so-good news is that some of the companies developing energy crops have diverted away from renewable fuels, or slowed down commercialization efforts. Some have disappeared altogether. Where’s Valcent, which once proudly claimed it could produce up to 250,000 gallons of photosynthetic algae per acre until it was pointed out that you don’t get enough photons to achieve that, no matter what the technology.

In general, you’d be surprised how much activity is ongoing. Let’s take a look in the next pages.

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