US plans 14-fold increase in cellulosic ethanol

07 July 2006 21:43  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--The Department of Energy (DoE) said on Friday it will spend some $200m (€156m) next year in hopes of making research breakthroughs toward large-scale production of cellulosic ethanol as an economically viable vehicle fuel.

 

In connection with its spending goals for fiscal year 2007, the department published what it termed “an ambitious new research agenda” that envisions development breakthroughs within five years to enable wide-scale use of cellulosic ethanol as an alternative to gasoline.

 

The 200-page research roadmap is aimed at achieving replacement of 30% of US 2004 gasoline consumption with cellulosic ethanol by 2030. 

 

Cellulosic ethanol feedstocks are derived from the fibrous, woody and generally inedible portions of plant matter, such as corn stalks, wheat straw and grasses.

 

The department said that to meet the 2030 goal the US fuel ethanol industry will have to boost current production of some 12m tonne/year of corn-based ethanol to about 180m tonne/year of output - a 14-fold increase - based on cellulosic feedstock from a variety of plants and agricultural waste.

 

With current technology, conversion of cellulosic biomass is less productive and more expensive than the conversion of corn grain to ethanol. However, cellulosic feedstocks are much cheaper and more abundant than corn, and the research roadmap issued by the department today seeks more efficient means of processing cellulosic biomass into ethanol.

 

Sharlene Weatherwax, a programme manager at the department’s office of biological and environmental research, said breakthroughs in process efficiencies for cellulosic biomass are expected within the next five years with full deployment and commercialization of those new technologies in the following 10 years.

 

Principal challenges, she said, include finding better processes to break down cellulosic materials into sugars and optimizing the fermentation process to convert sugars to ethanol. At present, cellulosic ethanol output is only half as productive as corn-based ethanol.

 

The federal cellulosic ethanol research roadmap can be found on the department’s Web site.


By: Joe Kamalick
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