Issue Date: January 7, 2008
New World For Biofuels
SOME $170 BILLION in new technology development projects, infrastructure equipment and construction, and biofuel refineries will result from the ethanol production standards contained in energy legislation enacted into law late last year, said biotechnology industry advocates in an end-of-year briefing.
"Such a new energy infrastructure has not occurred in more than 100 years," said Brent Erickson, executive vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, at the briefing. "We are at the point where we were in the 1850s when kerosene was first distilled and began to replace whale oil. This technology will be coming so fast that what we say today won't be true in two years."
Erickson compared the scale of ethanol-related economic impacts from the new law to the Manhattan Project, which made the first two U.S. atomic bombs, and the Apollo Project, which put humans on the moon.
The law requires that 36 billion gal of ethanol be produced by 2022—15 billion gal from corn kernels and 21 billion from cellulosic feedstock, such as corn stover, prairie grass, or poplar trees. Currently, U.S. farmers produce 7 billion gal of corn ethanol, and no commercial plants refine ethanol from cellulose feedstocks. The U.S. burns about 140 billion gal of gasoline a year.
The industry experts predicted that some 300 new refineries will be built, 210 to process cellulosic feedstock and 75 to be based on corn. Along with the refineries, they said, there will be more pipelines, rail cars, and facilities to harvest, store, and process massive amounts of cellulosic feedstock as well as to develop and produce enzymes to break down cellulose. More farmers and farmlands will be enlisted to grow ethanol feedstock, and research and technology centers will be needed to develop new chemical processes and engineer new equipment, the advocates said.
Erickson predicted that ethanol production will expand from the Midwest to the rest of the country, particularly to the South, where the soft-wood lumber industry will provide cellulosic feedstock.
Biotechnology officials laid out a phased path to cellulosic feedstocks in which currently operating corn-based refineries would be modified to handle cellulose, and by 2012 companies would begin building large commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol refineries.
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