Closing In On Cellulosic

Tom Bryan, president and editor in chief of Ethanol Producer Magazine, discusses the U.S. EPA's recent RFS rule, the cellulosic biofuels industry, and the 2017 International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo.
By Tom Bryan | July 27, 2017

Last month, when the U.S. EPA released its proposed 2018 biofuels blending volumes, it justified a flat-to-lower cellulosic biofuels obligation—which it had never done before—by citing the limited commercial availability of fuel in that category. This month, in our timely update on cellulosic projects worldwide, we see how advanced biofuels policy and production remain intertwined in a complex chicken-or-egg saga. As the federal government brake taps on its advanced biofuels commitment and hesitates to change a law that hampers ethanol’s expansion, some producers worry that the low-carbon ethanol they’re striving to produce may not have a market when it arrives. Others say the Feds will, in fact, fully implement the Renewable Fuel Standard in step with, but not ahead of, the gallons of cellulosic ethanol that come available.

In our page-20 cover story, “Inside An Industry,” we receive updates on the world’s most viable cellulosic ethanol plants, from Poet-DSM and DuPont’s high-profile efforts in the Midwest, to lesser-known contenders in Florida, California, Canada, India and elsewhere. You’ll get a sense, at least with Poet-DSM and DuPont, that the reality of cellulosic ethanol, assuredly produced in the tens of millions of gallons annually, is close but not yet here.

While ethanol from corn residue—the stubble, leaves and cobs—garners much of the attention and criticism aimed at our industry’s next-generation quest, it seems likely that corn fiber-based ethanol will arrive first. Over the past year, Ethanol Producer Magazine has covered nearly every movement in the corn fiber-to-ethanol space, capturing the progress of companies like D3MAX, Quad County Corn Processors, Fluid Quip, ICM and others. In “Processing Pathways,” on page 36, we revisit them, starting with California-based Edeniq, which employs cellulosic enzymes to boost an ethanol plant’s output. The company’s low-cost solution gives producers, on average, 1 percent cellulosic ethanol and a 2 percent lift in overall production. The story aptly explains the differences between in-situ and separate processing of corn fiber.     

Finally, within this issue, you’ll find a photo-laden recap of the 2017 International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo. This year’s conference was the largest since 2008, and there was a palpable sense of optimism amidst its 2,100 attendees. Minneapolis was, once again, an ideal host city and the 33rd FEW will go down as one of our finest this decade. Enjoy the images, starting on page 28. 

Author: Tom Bryan
President & Editor in Chief