This week, the National Research Council (NRC), which operates as part of the US Academy of Sciences to advise Congress, published a study concluding that the United States will likely fail to satisfy its long-term Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS2) mandate for producing advanced biofuels from trees, grasses and crop waste. In particular, the study cites the technological challenges of producing “next generation” ethanol.
The NRC research affirms the results of the study Forisk published in May 2011 with the Schiamberg Group which evaluated the wood-based transportation fuel sector in the United States. While wood pellet and wood-to-electricity projects use established technologies proven at commercial scale, wood biofuel projects continue to face major technological, feedstock and policy challenges. That said, there is a wide range of technologies and business models in development in the wood transportation fuels sector.
The study – Transportation Fuels from Wood: Investment and Market Implications of Current Projects and Technologies – includes the status of 36 cellulosic biofuel projects and estimated commercialization timelines for 12 technology approaches. While the NRC study addresses policy and sector-wide analysis and implications, the Forisk study emphasizes bioenergy and timberland investor implications by firm and project in the US. Projects producing drop-in fuels appear to have superior potential for investors. However, major technical hurdles will likely disrupt commercialization for most technologies under development.
While Forisk’s study finds an 11 year gap on average between estimated technology viability and firm announcements, it highlights promising approaches. This includes the gasification technology under development by firms like Rentech and ClearFuels for diesel and/or jet fuel. INEOS New Planet, Rappaport Energy and Coskata, and Kior are pursuing innovative approaches using gasification and microbes, and catalytic fast pyrolysis.
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