Early Stage to Groundbreaking

By Susanne Retka Schill | September 12, 2011

This issue of Ethanol Producer Magazine contains reports on several early-stage concepts—all intriguing developments with real promise. There’s no guarantee that they will succeed, of course. Problems emerge in scaling up ideas that work in theory or at a small scale. Sometimes the associated costs that initially look favorable ultimately torpedo the project. In all cases, it can take years from when the idea or initial research is announced until it becomes a reality. We often look back at earlier coverage of companies announcing breakthrough discoveries to learn we’ve been reporting their developments for years. So it’s also exciting to be reporting financing and loan guarantees being received, not to mention licensing agreements. We soon expect to be following the build-out of cellulosic ethanol facilities. I believe Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s comment that one day we’ll look around and say, “Where did all these plants come from?” is indeed true. Getting the first ones to the groundbreaking stage seems slow from the current viewpoint, but soon the cranes will be swinging components into position. We’ve been reporting on these first cellulosic ethanol projects since they were early-stage concepts, and we’ll continue to look for such concepts to share. More than once, we’ve learned a story we wrote resulted in phone calls from potential collaborators.

Among the new ideas reported in this issue, Associate Editor Kris Bevill’s features a researcher’s proposal to borrow a financing mechanism from wind energy to recruit investors with an appetite for loss to back capital-intensive biomass power islands at ethanol plants. Associate Editor Holly Jessen reports on Ethanol Boosting Systems Inc.’s patent for a system that could optimize engines to take advantage of ethanol’s high octane. The researcher claims it could be used for heavy-duty trucks, too. Then there’s Bevill’s Distilled story about a catalyst discovery that appears to be a cost-effective way to convert ethanol to an intermediate chemical useful for production in rubber alternatives. We’re finding more researchers looking at integrating intermediate chemical and ethanol production. I bet bio-based tires would be a nice-sized market for ethanol-based chemicals, taking some pressure off blend wall concerns.

Author: Susanne Retka Schill
Editor, Ethanol Producer Magazine