Advanced Biofuels Come of Age

Advanced, non-food biofuels are gaining momentum in 2013 as several new plants have gathered the capital and momentum for large-scale production.


| February 13, 2013



Biofuels

Non-food biofuels, including those made from energy crops, are gaining momentum in 2013 and several new plants have opened to support the trend.


Photo by Fotolia/Maksym Yemelyanov

Reposted with permission from Rocky Mountain Institute.

For the better part of a decade we’ve heard how imminent plants would soon yield significant volumes of advanced, non-food biofuel. So far, almost none of this production has been realized.

Here is a small sample of the industry’s tribulations: A BC International plant in Louisiana was supposed to produce commercial volumes of non-food biofuel by the early 2000s, but after several changes of name, ownership, and/or technology, the plant never did. logen, backed by Shell via joint venture, had intended to produce at commercial scale five years ago, but plans seem to have fully stalled, with layoffs in April 2012 and cancellation of a new plant in Manitoba. And Coskata, a Khosla Ventures company, was conditionally granted a $250 million USDA loan guarantee in early 2011, only to give up in 2012 on cellulosic fuel as a feedstock (abandoning the guarantee) and instead focus on natural gas.

As a result of the lack of advanced, non-food biofuel production, the EPA has dramatically revised downward its cellulosic biofuel blending requirement for oil companies under the current Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2). Those annual reductions have grown from 95 percent in 2010 to 98.3 percent in 2012, when the EPA cut a 500MMgal requirement down to just 8.65MMgal. What’s more, even these reduced volumes haven’t always materialized. For instance, between July 2010 and October 2011, no volume of cellulosic biofuel was sold into the general market.

But there are signs that 2013 will be the year that the advanced, non-food biofuel spigot finally opens, with several plants nearly built or already producing initial product.

Non-Food Biofuels Quietly Already Here

Despite sparse media coverage, significant volumes of non-food biofuels have been produced in the U.S. for a couple of years now, albeit under the general “advanced biofuel” RFS2 category, not the “cellulosic biofuel” RFS2 subcategory. Some of these RFS2 “advanced biofuel” feedstocks are food-based, such as soy for biodiesel, and in lower volume, sorghum for ethanol. However, many biodiesel producers are increasingly utilizing non-food feedstocks such as low-grade corn oil (a secondary product from ethanol manufacturing), cooking waste oils, and non-food animal fat/rendering.

heidi hunt
2/26/2013 5:22:13 PM

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