AE Details

Add To DockClock Ticking

A recent report in the Kansas City Star says a federal mandate to produce 100 million gallons of ethanol next year from cellulose likely won’t be met. Both credit and legal troubles are blamed.

Cellulosic ethanol is made from grass and wood. Federal renewable energy goals require producers of it to provide at least 16 billion gallons of fuel by 2022. Reporter Steve Everly writes in the Star that the tight credit market has stalled investments in new commercial-scale plants. And, a plant in Alabama is repaying investors after a jury found the plant’s fuel was being made with oil, not cellulose.

The Environmental Protection Agency in now considering lowering the cellulosic biofuel standard for 2010 from the mandated 100 million gallons. 

But, opponents of cellulosic ethanol say the government is forcing an energy source onto the market that isn’t viable. Robert Bryce, a well-known columnist for the Wall Street Journal, often argues against cellulosic ethanol. He says the idea of ethanol from grass was first talked about in 1921. And, that it’s not as efficient as oil and natural gas in providing energy.

On his blog he writes, “…ethanol’s energy density is only about two-thirds that of gasoline. So that 32 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol only contains the energy equivalent of about 21 billion gallons of gasoline.”

Bryce says ethanol also uses more resources to produce fuel without added benefit.

“…A September 2008 study on alternative automotive fuels done by Jan Kreider, a professor emeritus of engineering at the University of Colorado, and Peter S. Curtiss, a Boulder-based engineer, found that the production of cellulosic ethanol required about 42 times as much water and emitted about 50 percent more carbon dioxide than standard gasoline.”

Some in the local oil and natural gas industry say the market, not the federal government, should decide what energy sources will work on a large scale.

“We’ve fiddled with the agriculture markets to a point where we’re having problems with food availability, so ethanol was a poor first choice. Wind power is good, but limited. Solar power is good, but limited,” says Mickey Thompson, CEO of TruEnergy Services, L.LC. “I would just like to see all of the fuel sources stand on their own and be judged not just economically, but in terms of the environmental impact, without too much governmental interference.  Let the markets sort of decide.”

The biomass sector of alternative energy received $800 million in the federal stimulus package earlier this year.

Related Stories »

". . .32 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol only contains the energy equivalent of about 21 billion gallons of gasoline. . ."