BIO: RFS advanced biofuel requirement can be met

By Anna Austin
Posted May 20, 2009, at 9:51 a.m. CST

The Biotechnology Industry Organization recently hosted a briefing on the progress companies are making in bringing advanced biofuels to the marketplace, and indicated it is confident that the advanced biofuel requirements of the Renewable Fuel Standard can be met.

The current cellulosic biofuel mandate is set at 1 billion gallons by 2013, with additional annual increases to 16 billion gallons in 2022. The advanced biofuel requirement also includes 1 billion gallons of biomass-based diesel by 2012.

Speakers at the briefing included DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol LLC Vice President of Commercial and Public Affairs Jack Huttner; Gevo Inc. CEO Patrick Gruber; and Novozymes North America President Lars Hansen.

"The recent analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency shows that biofuels produced with biotech tools will dramatically reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from transportation-more than 100 percent compared to gasoline, in some cases," said Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO's Industrial and Environmental Section. "In addition to enabling production of cellulosic biofuels, biotechnology can continue to help biofuel producers reduce carbon emissions by increasing yields of fuel per ton of raw material and decreasing energy use in production of biofuels. Biotechnology can also help farmers increase yields per acre and reduce petroleum inputs in agriculture," he said.
Gruber said Gevo's technology, which is based on the fermentation of biomass into isobutanol, should be commercial by 2011. The company is currently constructing a 1 MMgy demonstration plant that is slated for start-up in the third quarter of 2009. "We can go into a different infrastructure than ethanol," Gruber said. "We can make 90 percent renewable gasoline-not hypothetical gasoline, exactly gasoline. Likewise, isobutanol contains the same hydrocarbon components that go into jet fuel and diesel fuel."

Dupont Danisco's cellulosic ethanol demonstration plant in Vonore, Tenn., should be operational in December 2009, according to Huttner. "Our objective is to build a couple of demonstration plants, and then license our technology to biorefinery companies throughout North America and the world," he said. "There are three main messages we would like to give-one is that from our point of view, [cellulosic ethanol] technology is ready for commercialization. This is no longer a technology that is five years from being commercially viable."

Huttner said the real challenge involved isn't technology integration; rather it's the supply-chain development. "The requirement of biorefineries for biomass is quite significant, in organizing the farmer/producers to produce the kinds of volumes we're going to need for billions of gallons. It's a big challenge not only for us, but the whole industry."

Huttner said developers are approaching parity with first-generation ethanol in terms of cost. "Our objective is to be price-parity with gasoline, at about $80 per barrel," he added.