Non-Food ‘Cellulosic’ Ethanol Could Be Price Competitive With Gasoline By 2016.

Cellulosic ethanol production.According to research company Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), ethanol produced from non-food materials (inedible parts of plants, woods, and grasses) will be price competitive with corn-based ethanol and gasoline by 2016. It’s a second generation biofuel called cellulosic ethanol and for years, figuring out how to cost effectively produce ethanol from non-edible plants has been a challenge. From BNEF:

“The survey collected data and predictions on the production costs of 11 leading players in the cellulosic ethanol industry. All use a technique, commonly called enzymatic hydrolysis, to break down and convert the complex sugars in non-food crop matter, and a fermentation stage to turn the results into ethanol. The results showed that in 2012, the cost of cellulosic ethanol production was $0.94 per litre, around 40% higher than the $0.67 per litre cost of producing ethanol from corn, which dominates the US biofuel market and is competitive with US gasoline. By 2016, respondents thought the price of cellulosic ethanol would match that of corn-based ethanol.”

Why is the move to cellulosic biofuels so important? From BusinessGreen:

“Cellulosic biofuels are widely regarded as critical to the development of the biofuels industry, as they allow developers to produce fuels from waste material or fast-growing grasses removing the need for energy crops that have been blamed for eating into agricultural land and driving up food prices.”

Another benefit of cellulosic ethanol is that its production can reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by up to 85% over reformulated gasoline according to a study conducted by Michael Wang of the Argonne National Laboratory. Starch-based ethanol made from corn reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 18-29% over reformulated gasoline. [BusinessGreen and BNEF]



  1. GreenEngineer says

    I really think that you should be careful about accepting the prognostications of a “financial research” organization on what is ultimately a technical topic.
    As the article suggests, companies have been beating their head against cellulosic ethanol, trying to make it profitable, for many decades now. Unfortunately, there is little or no reason to believe that that story is going to change – unless you get your information from the press releases of the companies trying to commercialize the technology, which is where these “research” groups typically hang their hat.
    For a perspective on the technology from a chemical engineer who works in the alternative fuel business, I suggest this:

    I am not as informed as Mr. Rapier, but my own reading supports his analysis. There is no indication of a transformative breakthrough on the horizon, which is what it would take to make this technology useful at scale.

  2. Thanks Brent. I chose to keep this post on cellulosic ethanol short and that’s why the contrary data is missing. BusinessGreen did include this information in their article:

    “The cellulosic ethanol industry has something of a history of over-promising cost reductions and under-delivering,” counselled Harry Boyle, lead biofuel analyst at BNEF, in a statement. “However, it may be dangerous to assume that it will not become competitive this decade. If our survey proves accurate, cellulosic ethanol will make meaningful inroads into the vehicle fuel market in the last years of this decade.”

    The report also revealed that significant cost improvements have already been delivered across the industry. For example, the enzyme cost for a litre of cellulosic ethanol has come down 72 per cent between 2008 and 2012.”

    I did read Mr. Rapier’s article and holy cow – the commenters are pretty hardcore.

    Thanks again and keep coming back. We need to be poked from time to time.