Cellulosic Biofuels Begin to Flow

U.S. cellulosic biofuels production totaled about 20,000 gallons last year, way below the 500 million gallons target set by Congress. In a recent addition of “Today in Energy,” the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) looks at the American cellulosic biofuels industry and how production may sharply rise in 2013.

According to the brief, several companies combined to produce about 20,000 gallons of fuels using cellulosic biomass (e.g., wood waste, sugarcane bagasse) from commercial-scale facilities in late 2012. EIA estimates this output could grow to more than 5 million gallons in 2013, as operations ramp up at several plants. By 2015, EPA estimates that another 250 million gallons could be online by 2015.

biomasscapAlthough cellulosic biofuels volumes are expected to grow significantly relative to current levels, according to the brief, they will likely remain well below the targets envisioned in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. That law set a target level of 500 million gallons of cellulosic biofuels for 2012 and 1 billion gallons for 2013, growing to 16 billion gallons by 2022.

As many have rightly point out, the path the commercial cellulosic biofuels production has not been straight or smooth. Several biofuel projects, including one from BP Biofuels in Highlands County, Florida, have been canceled before starting major construction. Other projects have experienced delays in their commercialization attempts. According to Today in Energy, several reasons underpin slow growth in the commercialization of biofuels; Difficulties obtaining financing in the aftermath of the debt crisis; Technology scale-up difficulties at start-up companies; and strategic corporate shifts because of increased availability of low-cost natural gas.

The brief concludes that all EIA forecasts and projections have been too optimistic as anticipated large shortfalls are expected to continue.

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