Advanced biofuels explore alternatives to consumption crops

08 February 2013 05:21  [Source: ICIS news]

LAS VEGAS, Nevada (ICIS)--Exploring a future in advanced biofuels can be one way the US ethanol industry address the “food vs. fuel” debate, a consultant said on Thursday.

“Even though it is a misconception that first-generation ethanol compromises the food supply, advanced biofuels produce high-grade ethanol from crops that are not interested for consumption,” said Howard Marks, president and CEO of K Street Alternative Energy Strategies.

Marks, who formerly worked in the communications office at the US Department of Energy (DOE), made his comments on the sidelines of the National Ethanol Conference in Las Vegas.

Common feedstocks for advanced biofuels include switch grass, sweet sorghum, woodchips, municipal solid wastes, among other things, he said.

Using non-food crops is not a new concept, Marks said, but not much research has been done on processes that would make those feedstocks more productive.

“The crops themselves, with a few exceptions, are not traded,” he said. “The costs involved in harvesting, collecting and transporting these crops need to be driven down.”

He added: “There have been a few projects, but they have been proven to be very small, benchmark-scale, pilot planes. We need to work further to fuel in mass quantity.”

The DOE is currently providing funding opportunities that explore processes that would efficiently grow these crops.

“This is new territory, uncharted territory,” Marks said. “We need to grow alternatives and do it in a way that is attractive for farmers.”

Still, the industry has seen some positive development, including use of advanced biofuels in aviation, Marks added.

US Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has said he wants to invest in biofuels technology for the services ships and aircrafts. Furthermore, several commercial carriers have tested using advanced biofuels.

“I think people are a little too impatient,” he said, pointing out how far the corn ethanol industry has come in the last 30 years.

“This is not like the iPhone 5 vs. the iPhone 4,” he added. “Sometimes, it takes 15-20 years to develop a technology. The industry will be coming around and making those numbers, and the advances will be exponential. The public just needs to be patient.”

By: Tracy Dang
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