The Future of Cellulosic Ethanol is Green

Forget corn; we'll get fuel from all the other stuff, says DOE

Corn Field

Markus Schöpke

"Cellulosic ethanol technology is a lot closer to reality than a lot of articles would have you think," said Jacques Beaudry-Losique, manager of the Department of Energy's Biomass Program this morning at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting. After some well-publicized studies stated that corn-based biofuels might exacerbate CO2 damage to the environment, focus has shifted to these so-called "second generation" biofuels that use non-food crops such as switchgrass, wood chips or crop residues (e.g. all the parts of the corn plant that are currently wasted after harvest--the stalk, leaves and "cob").

He projects that only 6 percent of biofuels in the U.S. will come from corn--31 percent will come from these crop residues, 28 from perennial crops like switchgrass and 27 percent from forest resources. The trick (as always) is making it cheap. If the DOE's $250-million-a-year R&D efforts can get the cost of these cellulosic ethanols down to $1.30 a gallon by 2012 (compared to $2.40 today), the technologies will scale up to 3 billion gallons a year by 2015 and 16 billion gallons by 2022.

For more reports from the annual AAAS conference, click here.