FEW: The future of ethanol production has challenges to overcome

By Hope Deutscher | June 03, 2009
Report posted June 16, 2009, at 11:35 p.m. CST

Government support is needed to further the cellulosic industry. That's the opinion of several industry leaders who were asked what the single biggest stumbling block is to building the cellulosic ethanol industry. Eight representatives from a variety of companies participated in a panel discussion that focused on research, technology and the future of ethanol production during the general session of the International Fuel Ethanol Workshop and Expo in Denver on June 16.

Pure and simple - political will and support is needed to further the cellulosic industry, said Neal Briggi, global head of enzymes at Syngenta Biotechnology Inc., and Vonnie Estes, vice president of business development at DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol.

"The single most thing would probably be a U.S. energy policy because that policy will then transform into investment and all the things that are needed to move any industry forward," said Dave Vander Griend, CEO of ICM Inc. "If there is not a long-term policy, there's not going to be a long-term industry."

However, Troy Hobbs, corn biofuels strategy lead at Monsanto Co. disagrees. "I think if the political will is there, if we've got any business climate at all, things will take shape but we need to advance that political will and move it to the next level," he said.

Wes Bolsen, chief marketing officer and government affairs at Coskata Inc. said political will is good for the country but the cellulosic industry is currently hampered by economics. "The biggest thing is the production costs," he said. "I'll just address it head on. When we can sell ethanol cheaper than a gallon of gasoline, even on a Btu basis, people will demand that product. We don't need government involved because we have a superior product, not only on greenhouse gas basis, not only on an energy security basis but overall we have a superior product."

In the short-term, Jeff Broin, CEO of Poet LLC, said the industry and government needs to address the blend wall and would like to see a flexible fuel mandate and the use of more flexible fuel vehicles. "The biggest thing standing in the way of cellulosic ethanol is the blend wall. If we don't move beyond 10 percent ethanol, there is no money for cellulosic ethanol," Broin said. Poet is close to beginning a two-year construction project for a cellulosic ethanol plant, he said, however, the capital isn't available today and won't be until the blend wall is moved. "We can all talk about the future 10 years down the road but if we don't get our politics in order and our public relations in order, I don't think the future looks too bright."

Broin said the industry is working with Congress to develop and introduce a flexible fuel mandate.