The biofuel industry will not be able to meet the cellulosic production requirements of the Renewable Fuel Standard without significant advancements in technology or investment, according to a National Academy of Sciences study prepared for Congress.
Wally Tyner, the James and Lois Ackerman
Professor of Agricultural Economics at Purdue University, West LaFayette, Ind.,
co-chaired a committee tasked by the National Academy of Sciences to produce
The Renewable Fuel Standard requires
that 15 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol, 1 billion gallons of biodiesel
and 16 billion gallons of cellulosic fuels be produced annually by 2022.
According to the report, the corn ethanol numbers and biodiesel can be
achieved, but the cellulosic goals probably cannot.
Tyner said that is because the corn
ethanol industry has been working for more than 30 years while the cellulosic
industry is still very young. There are no commercially viable biorefineries
for cellulosic ethanol today.
"We have more than 200 corn ethanol
plants producing more than 14 billion gallons of ethanol today. It took 30
years to get there. We have 11 years to reach even higher numbers for
cellulosic biofuels," Tyner says. "We would need a build rate three
times that of corn ethanol. And with corn, we had the technology; we had the
feedstock, and prices for corn were relatively low. We don't have any of that
Another problem, according to the
report, is that the amount farmers would need to make a profit on raising
cellulosic feedstocks is more than ethanol producers are willing to pay for
those feedstocks. In most cases, the gap is larger than the federal subsidy
that goes to federal producers, which may leave investors nervous about getting
into the cellulosic ethanol industry.
The report also raises questions about
the environmental impact of cellulosic biofuels. Tyner says it is uncertain
whether some cellulosic fuels would lower greenhouse gases because of the
emissions that would be released when new land is cultivated.
U.S. Unlikely to Hit Renewable Fuel Standard for Cellulosic Biofuels, Say Researchers
November 15, 2011