Cellulose Advances with Help from Corn-Based Industry

By Mike Bryan | October 06, 2008
The theme of this issue of EPM is cellulosic ethanol. Many companies involved in the conventional ethanol industry are now turning their attention to cellulose as the renewable fuel of future. In doing so, it seems that corn-based ethanol has unfairly taken it on the chin.

As more facts are released, it becomes increasingly clear that corn-based ethanol has not caused global food shortages, the marginalization of women, increases in gas prices, and deforestation. I have been involved in agriculture for well over 30 years, and for the first time in my memory, farmers are actually able to make a decent living and, as a result, are being villainized for doing so. In actuality, farmers are the ones who have been marginalized.

Opponents of this industry have done a stellar job trashing corn-based ethanol, and perhaps it's best to just move on. It does make me wonder, though, what the next issue will be once an increasing amount of ethanol is produced from cellulose. It may be land use, water, energy ... who knows? Trust me, there will be another battle that we will have to fight on the cellulosic front.

As you'll see in the pages of this issue, much progress has been made in the development of cellulosic ethanol, but much more still needs to be done. Feedstock collection and storage, the economic fermentation of C5 sugars and pretreatment options are just part of a list of challenges facing the industry. These are things that we'll overcome, however, and out of this will emerge a robust industry that will carry us into the next generation of biofuels.

The years ahead will see improvements not only in cellulose-to-ethanol technology but in other technologies, as well. Processes such as pyrolysis, gasification and anaerobic digestion will be part of our future energy mix. So while some concede that the corn-to-ethanol debate was a battle lost (others may call it a draw), we most certainly have not lost the war.

I try to avoid politics in this column, but I have to say that it will be difficult to support any presidential candidate that doesn't demonstrate a strong commitment to biofuels. They are the future of our transportation infrastructure, and they are in existence now, not in some futuristic dream. Biofuels, along with the development of all domestic energy resources, has to be part of an intelligent energy strategy. We can't drill our way out of the current energy crisis, and we shouldn't ignore other domestic resources, including billions of gallons of clean renewable energy from grain and cellulose.

That's the way I see it!

Mike Bryan
Publisher & CEO