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Mar 15, 2009 (Vol. 29, No. 6)

U.S. Biofuels Market Off and Running

Experts Say that Ethanol Will Penetrate 100% of Gasoline Market in Next Few Years

  • Debate over GHG Emissions

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    Gevo is producing isobutanol, which can be converted into many important industrial chemicals, fuel additives, and even bio-based drop-in ready gasoline, molecularly equivalent to petroleum fuels.

    Further, there are potential regulatory hurdles for next-generation fuels. The RFS requires cellulosic fuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% over gasoline, versus a 20% reduction for corn ethanol. A challenge exists, however, in exactly how to measure these reductions for biofuels producers aiming to meet the targets.

    At issue are questions about carbon effects of land-management techniques—whether land allocated for biofuels causes downstream market effects that indirectly increase production by greenhouse gas (GHG)-emitting industries elsewhere.

    EPA insiders are reportedly concerned over conclusions of a February 2008 Science paper by Searchinger et al. Biofuels researchers argue that it is unprecedented to translate market effects into carbon costs and that, given the lack of a means to accurately measure such indirect effects, EPA’s flawed models could stall cellulosic and other biofuels development at a critical juncture.

    Companies like Ceres are designing agricultural products to substantially increase biomass yields, to favorably tip energy balances and decrease the relative GHG emissions per area of land of biomass. This past December, Ceres launched its Blade Energy Crops brand of high-yield switchgrass cultivars, among other genetically designed species such as high-fiber sugarcane and high-biomass sorghum.

    Monsanto also has offerings in the works for increased feedstock yields. An ongoing collaboration with Mendel Biotechnology centers on crop testing, breeding, and seed production for perennial grass seed varieties; and R&D in a joint venture with Cargill is focused on a processing system for increased corn yield for fuel and other applications.

    Monsanto recently positioned itself in the global sugarcane ethanol market, with its December acquisition of Brazilian genomics agribusiness Alellyx and its sister company CanaVialis, reportedly the world’s largest private sugarcane breeder.

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