Failure of Historic Proportions

Failure of Historic Proportions

Cellulosic ethanol is a failure of historic proportions, in terms of misinformation, media complicity, money wasted and the involvement of politicians.

Cellulosic ethanol was, among other things, supposed to:

  • Eliminate dependence on foreign oil
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 80%

This was to be done by forcing Americans to use cellulosic ethanol in their gasoline, and to eventually replace most gasoline by using flex fuel vehicles.

Congress participated in this travesty by passing legislation requiring the use of cellulosic ethanol and creating an enforcement/implementation mechanism with the creation of Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs). They, in turn, have become a boondoggle in their own right.

Congress created this mess at the behest of environmental organizations that are now turning their backs on the mess they promoted.

When Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, there was zero cellulosic ethanol available, but promises by environmental advocates, such as Vinod Khosla, predicted there would be 100 million gallons available shortly.

Of course, the 100 million gallons never materialized, nor would the other billions of gallons required to meet Congress’ mandate.

The accompanying chart shows how bad the legislation really was.

The quantities of cellulosic ethanol required by the act are shown in yellow. By 2022, cellulosic ethanol usage was to exceed corn-based ethanol, shown in brown. (Blue is for other advanced ethanol requirements, light blue is for bio-diesel)

This year, we should be using around 5,000,000,000 gallons of cellulosic ethanol, but, of course, it doesn’t exist.

But the lack of availability of cellulosic ethanol is only a part of the story.

There have been millions of tax dollars used to promote cellulosic ethanol and to build plants to produce it.

Here are some of the plants:

  • Abengoa Bioenergy, in Hugoton, Kan., received a $97 million grant and a $132 million loan guarantee from DOE. It went bankrupt.
  • Range Fuels, bankrupt
  • Cello Energy, bankrupt
  • Blue Sugars, no longer in business
  • INEOS Bio, no longer attempting to produce cellulosic ethanol
  • Solazyme, stopped trying to produce cellulosic ethanol, switched to foods, changed name to TerraVi
  • Gevo, doesn’t produce cellulosic ethanol
  • Amyris, not producing cellulosic ethanol
  • Poet Inc. $275 million plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa, received $105 million grant from U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in 2011. The plant was supposed to produce 25 million gallons per year. It reportedly has produced some cellulosic ethanol, but less than the proposed 25 million gallons.
  • DuPont Cellulosic Ethanol, $200 million, 30 million-gallon-per-year plant in Nevada, Iowa, received grants from DOE for cellulosic ethanol.

The last two plants appear to be the only plants producing any cellulosic ethanol, but far below the quantities required to meet the mandates foisted on Americans.

The paltry amounts of cellulosic ethanol being produced are far below the 5,000,000,000 gallons of cellulosic ethanol that were supposed to be produced this year. That’s 5 billion gallons of a product that doesn’t exist.

But this isn’t the end of the problem.

The United States is still required to produce 16,000,000,000 gallons of cellulosic ethanol by 2022. That’s 11 billion gallons more of a product that doesn’t exist.

Cellulosic ethanol is not needed to cut oil imports since we can provide most of what we need from shale.

Assuming someone can actually produce this non-existent product, the only reason for continuing with the cellulosic ethanol mandate is to cut CO2 emissions.

Continuing with the cellulosic ethanol mandate is bad for Americans.

It’s time to eliminate it.


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4 Replies to “Failure of Historic Proportions”

  1. Additional problems are; the amount of refined petroleum used to produce it (about 3gal to 1gal), and driving up the price of food. If you’re a farmer and the food price for what you grow is$10 a ton or the ethanol plant is offering $12 a ton who are you going to sell too?

    • True. And it’s really a bad idea to use food as a fuel.
      Thanks for your comment.

  2. Donn,
    Another excellent article.
    As part of my consulting activities, I worked on numerous cellulosic development projects, including Range Fuels, in a vane attempt to meet the government mandates for cellulosic ethanol. Initially there were quite a few of private investors along with government subsidies. Over time the private investors wised up dropped out, Obama doubled down yet, and it seems the effort has ended. In spite of this the EPA has refused to acknowledge there is insufficient quantity to meet the ever increasing mandates. The consulting dried up.

    The message is that regardless of how much money you waste, the government cannot successfully mandate a product that does not yet exist, irrationally assuming the fuel can be created regardless of the laws of Chemistry and Thermodynamics. Technology does not work that way, it never has and never will.

    Unfortunately those who govern us, never learn. We are on the same foolish road today, listening to the extreme environmentalists, instead of knowledgeable engineers and chemists yet again expecting a miracle to find a replacement for fossil fuels.
    Shutting down and demolishing coal fired plants, shutting down nuclear. and mandating electric cars prematurely could wreck the economies of developed nations. Even the International Energy Agency has warned that we are not on track to produce renewable energy required by the Paris Accord.

  3. Please excuse the delay in responding to your comment. We have had a problem getting comments to appear on the site.
    Thanks for your comments. I still can’t understand why the EPA, under Pruit, has made no attempt to end this absurd cellulosic ethanol mandate.