Several years ago, Vinod Khosla, from Sun Microsystems, was promoting cellulosic alcohol as a viable source of green energy. Unfortunately, due to lack of media enthusiasm, needed public support did not materialize. In Brazil, they have been able to make alcohol from sugar cane instead of corn, and that has gotten them independent of foreign energy imports which suck capital from the economies of dependent countries like the US.
Because cellulosic alcohol is made from the cellulose, which until now has been a waste by-product, the use of plants to make alcohol becomes much more viable.
United Nations, June 2008 - The bio-fuel, ethanol, is generating a
revolution in renewable energy that could help reduce the world's thirst
for oil. In Brazil, the production of ethanol from sugarcane is
booming, but what is not clear is the impact it is having on the
industry's sugarcane cutters.
biotechnology changes straw into something that's needed much more
urgently: sustainable and climate-friendly fuel. In the face of climate
change and dwindling reserves of fossil fuels, the search is on for an
environment friendly alternative, especially in the automotive sector
which consumes about 50 percent of the world's crude oil production.
Biofuels already exist, but so far they have been produced from canola,
corn or cereals -- edible plants also needed as food. »With the
innovative sunliquid process, Clariant has now succeeded in converting
difficult to access sugar from previously unusable plant residues like
cereal straw, corn stover or residues from sugar cane almost completely
into high-quality ethanol,« says Professor Dr. Andre Koltermann, Head of
Clariant's Biotech & Renewables Center. The cellulosic ethanol
produced by this process is a second-generation biofuel distinguished by
a class climate balance.
Cellulose is not edible, so it doesn't interfere with the food supply as making alcohol (ethanol) from corn.
Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing
examining the technologies that are making commercial-scale cellulosic
ethanol production a reality. Cellulosic ethanol is produced from
agricultural residue — primarily, at this time, from corn stover
(leaves, stalks and husks), which is removed in a sustainable manner
after the harvest. Cellulosic ethanol is commercially produced at one
U.S. facility, with two more coming on-line later this year. Combined,
these three facilities are expected to produce a total of approximately
80 million gallons of renewable fuel per year. Contrary to popular
belief, cellulosic fuels are not ‘phantom fuels’ but commercially viable
ethanol fuels, which have been scaled up in a relatively short time
the U.S. transportation fuel supply contains approximately 10 percent
ethanol, a renewable fuel produced primarily from cornstarch and
intended to increase octane levels, lower GHG emissions and reduce
dependence on petroleum. Producing ethanol from cellulosic, non-edible
plant matter is more challenging, but is now making quick progress,
thanks to advances in enzymes and catalyst technologies. Corn stover is
now being used to produce cellulosic ethanol at commercial levels, and
other feedstocks, such as perennial grasses, cover crops, and organic
wastes, are being turned into ethanol in demonstration volumes. The
potential is huge: according to the Department of Energy’s 2011 ‘Billion
Ton Update’, there are currently 244 million dry tons of sustainably
recoverable agricultural wastes that are suitable for producing
cellulosic ethanol in the United States, and that number could reach as
high as 910 million dry tons per year by 2030.
In the Renewable
Fuel Standard (RFS), Congress mandated that renewable fuels be blended
into the transportation fuel supply. Under the RFS, cellulosic-based
fuels are expected to eventually provide 16 billion gallons of renewable
fuel per year. The RFS also mandates that cellulosic biofuels must
attain 60 percent greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions relative to gasoline.
Research suggests that current improvements in technology may achieve
GHG reductions upwards of 95 percent. If the production levels laid out
by the RFS are met, all renewable fuels combined could meet up to
one-third of the country’s fuel needs.
The U.S. cellulosic fuel
industry is already a significant local economic driver in rural areas,
and has attracted substantial federal, local, and international
investments. Currently, cellulosic ethanol and other advanced renewable
fuels production in the United States supports 4,500 direct full-time
jobs, and is poised to grow significantly. For comparison, the more
mature corn ethanol industry supports approximately 86,500 direct jobs.
Advanced cellulosic fuels and refining technologies are expected to move
ethanol production beyond the ‘corn belt’, fulfilling the RFS’s promise
of regionally appropriate feedstocks for renewable fuels.