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March 14, 2008



If the gas prices continue to rise as they have, cellulosic ethanol may soon become cost-competitive even without any further process cost decreases. Also, although it is currently more expensive than corn ethanol, cellulosic is not directly tied to grain and food prices, and its feedstocks are not limited by any stretch, and will not go up in price with increased demand.

For those two reasons, cellulosic ethanol sets a fixed upper bound on energy prices.


Isn't the leading company in the area of enzyme-based cellulosic ethanol conversion still Iogen, up in Canada? They've been at it for quite a while and seem to be all ready to go.

This is always the problem when trying to compare company claims vs. looking at the scientific literature - businesses need to protect their trade secrets from competitors, while scientists are (or should be) always publishing their results and data.

It's also a little troubling that this enzyme mix (patent-pending) produced using public research dollars is being exclusively licensed to just one company. Making the technology more widely available would allow independent testing and development, as well.

Essentially, the way a biofuel industry will work is going to depend on feedstock availability (rice straw, corn husks, etc), market demand for biofuels (high, by all accounts), and costs-of-operation: pretreatment, enzyme cleavage to release sugars, yeast fermentation to ethanol, and distillation and separation of pure ethanol.

Right now, overly restrictive intellectual property claims are going to be a real threat to rapid and efficient development of biofuels - not an aid. Our public universities should make their technology available to any U.S. company - it's taxpayer-financed research, after all.


Sometimes I wonder whether there is any danger in engineering such bacteria. What's to stop them eating all plants uncontrollably? I am a biologist so I should probably know the answer to this but its not immediately obvious to me.


Seems to me the question we're missing here is now how to best convert biomass to fuel, but whether it should be done AT ALL.

You start interrupting the natural cycle of plant-matter recycling, and sooner or later your soils are going to start degrading. And that's a self-perpetuating system I don't want to be any part of.

Kit P

Garsky, you could do a LCA if a new way of doing something is better. This is an example of looking at how nature (bacteria from the Chesapeake Bay) breaks down organic matter and then enhancing the process.

It is also incorrect to assume the soil is going to degrade. Want to bet garsky lives in a an apartment in the city and had never tended a garden and compost pile?

Bob Wallace

Switchgrass looks promising. It grows well in very marginal soil. Soil which would be unlikely normal agricultural land.

It's a long lived hardy perennial and actually improves the structure of the soil. It puts roots down as much as ten feet even piercing hard pan as it grows. It sequesters sizable amounts of carbon which improves the soil as well as removes CO2 from the atmosphere.


Pure speculation on my part, but...

Switchgrass farming might give us a good use for urban sludge which can't be used for food crop production due to heavy metal contamination.

Since the plant material won't enter the food chain then potential take up of toxic materials would not be a problem.

It might be possible to separate heavy metals from the grass during processing or use other plants for bio sequestering as is now being done when cleaning up contaminated soil.


markus: I presume these babies are "designed" to not be able to survive in the wild. Or perhaps to be incapable of dividing. But it is a good (and important) question.

garsky: The issue of the longterm sustainable yield is a good one. Taking too much every year over a long period of time could lead to depletion of important nutrients. Below some yield, natural processes should resupply the missing nutrients. There will be some usable level of biofuel feedstock available. The real question is how best to utilize a limited resource. I doubt ethanol is the most effect use.

Kit P

Of course Bob that just is not true.

Milorganite Organic Nitrogen Fertilizer

There are many examples of using biosolids to grow food crops.

If something is contaminated with toxic material (dioxin, PCBs) or heavy metals is it called hazardous waste. Suggesting spreading hazardous waste on uncontrolled farm land is not only a really stupid idea but criminal.

Kit P

“The real question is how best to utilize a limited resource. I doubt ethanol is the most effect use.”

BigTom, you too must be a city boy, am I right?

Organic material and the land that it grows on is not a limited resource. Ethanol is a very good use for it. The limited resource is engineers and scientist who know how to do it. Unfortunately, there is a surplus of big city lawyers to sue the crap out any who try.

Cyril R.

High yield biocrops that grow well on marginal land like Miscanthus and switchgrass are very promising. They fit very well into a large scale plugin-hybrid paradigm, and are virtually mandatory for avaition and shipping (ships may be nuclear fission powered but that's most likely politically unjustifiable).

However, farmers might still be seduced to grow high yield biocrops on more arable lands as it may yield significantly more $ than food crops even if the non food part of foodcrops is used as cellulosic feedstock.

The problem is relatively high gas prices vs food prices combined with a large difference in primary biofuel crop yield vs food crop 'waste' yield.

One way to solve this dilemma is to enact a strict biofuel certification programme, preferably world-wide. Easier said than done...

Bob Wallace

"Municipal sludges are the natural end products of a microbial food chain in the wastewater treatment process. Microbes feed on organic components of waste until they can no longer derive energy from it. At this point, sludge consists of mostly cellular material and stable degradation products that are considered safe for application to agricultural or forest lands.

If properly managed, land application is an excellent way to dispose of sludge. Waste can be applied at rates to meet crop nutrient requirements without harming the environment. Both the waste generator and the crop producer benefit from this recycling system. Humans and animals are natural waste generators, and land application makes it possible to recover the valuable components of waste as a usable resource."


Organic gardeners/farmers object to the use of municipal sludge due to small amounts of heavy metals that might be taken up by crops.

Using sludge to fertilize not-consumable crops could create a use for sludge while protecting the human food chain.

Milorganite? Won't find me using it on my property, even the forest portions. My drinking water comes from the rain/snow that perks through the soil.

Robert Schreib Jr.

Dear Sirs, A possible option for using sewage sludge, lawn clipings, autumn leaves, and types of manure like chicken guano, (which is now contaminating the water table of Oklahoma due to the chicken factory companies there, just dumping it into the environment there because it's cheaper than burning it) that are contaminated with chemicals and heavy metals, is to find big tracts of land that are already toxic, and NEVER going to be cleaned up, there are a lot of areas like that around the world, including a lot of radioactive areas in Russia, mulch these tainted waste materials, and use it all to fertilize these 'dead zones', to grow Corn or Switchgrass, or possibly bio-engineered BioFuel crops there, to make Ethanol to fight the global gasoline shortage. Since nobody will ever eat anything grown from these 'dead zones',that way we could tap into this literally unlimited resource of city sewage sludge to help resolve our fuel crisis. Also, someday the crude oil wells of the world WILL run out, and exploiting 'dead zones' that are toxic waste sites that are never going to be cleaned up anyway, to provide some fuel might become an inevitability.


Marcus: biochar possibilites abound. Essentially, that's taking the residues of biofuel production and using them as fertilizers and soil builders. The most well-known example is sugarcane ethanol production in Brazil. Corn and soybean cultivation in the U.S., mainly for animal feed, does more damage to the soil all by itself, biofuels or no biofuels.

In fact, many of the criticisms of biofuels are really problems with industrial agriculture itself, which relies heavily on fossil fuels and various petrochemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Sustainable biofuel production will require an overhaul of industrial agricultural practices.

One promising approach for small-scale and large-scale farmers is the use of biocharcoal as a soil amendment. For a good overview of the biochar process (which takes biomass and converts it to methane, oil and charcoal) works, see http://www.thestar.com/article/215991

Al Fin

Cellulosic ethanol can be considered only a minor element of a comprehensive bio-energy approach. Even at US $0.40 a gallon, cellulosic ethanol will be outmatched by other paths to bio-energy. At best, cellulosic ethanol can be seen as a bridge to better roads to bio-energy.

Pyrolysis takes 1/10th of the energy in garbage and waste biomass, and turns most of the other 9/10ths into useful liquid or gaseous fuel. Tuned microwaves and arc-plasma approaches are likewise self-propagating, and run on a small portion of energy contained in waste.

David B. Benson

Clarification sludge (municipal waste water) and animal wastes are readily converted, via various hydrothermal processes, into process heat and either methane, biodiesel or even biocoal whilst providing water clean enough to drink.

The processess are exothermic and in Dutch practice appear to generate enough heat to power about 5--10 kW electric generators.

I assume there are some solids produced by the processes which produce either methane or biodiesel. If so, disposal of these appears to be not worth mentioning.

David B. Benson


5-10 MW electric generators.


Wow, I am sure glad I found this site. Whew. I've just learnt of "Peak Oil" and I went to a bunch of site with rather grim outlooks. It's good to see that there is alot of movement going on in a good direction. And I've hope again for all of us. I don't know much about these energys and I never did well in science, but still I can't help but feel a great weight lifted from my shoulders.

In fact I've decided to learn about things more scientific any good places to start?

Oh, I picked up the April Issue of Popular Science. They've an article about Amyris. They seem to have found a way to make Gasoline from sugercane. Pretty neat. And with some of the breakthroughs in other Alts. Including Shale Oil and Tar Sands, I hope we can make it through until, even better and cleaner energies come about.

Kit P

Gary. I excelled in science school and have made a long career using that knowledge in the energy and environmental fields. A little bit of electricity greatly enhances our quality of life. If you are unsure of unsure of this, try cooking with dried manure. A little bit of transportation fuel will provide you great personal freedom. This quality of life then causes people to worry about not having that energy and while wanting a clean environment. I am certain that we have the ability to provide this energy and a clean environment at the same time. On the other hand, I am just as certain that that task is much harder (impossible?) if we all lived like Al Gore. Here are some links to science articles you may find interesting.



Gary, I don't know why KitP put up several links to anti-science sites that deny fossil fuel use is warming the planet, but if you want some sites about renewable energy options, here are some far better ones:


Another thing to do is to write a letter to your local political reps and tell them to end the government subsidies for fossil fuels and start promoting renewables as replacements.

David B. Benson

Gary --- Shale oil and tar sands are both very bad alternatives. Here is another bioenergy link for you:


although the link seems to be broken from my machine. I am sure it will be fixed by somethime tomorrow.

Kit P

“Gary, I don't know why KitP put up several links to anti-science sites that deny fossil fuel use is warming the planet ....

Ike, do you have trouble reading or what? I stated the reason, “science articles you may find interesting.”

Debating science is not anti-science.


Thank's guys. This is helpful. I will continue my research. I know that Shale and Tar sands are not a good route, however if they were to help us become more independent, acting as a bridge between Oil and other renewables then it is nonetheless a good option to have to play.

I understand that our mitigation from fossil fuels will be a hard task and that there will have to be bridges built to keep us going until even more Technological and Scientific breakthroughs emerge.

Just like the article I've metioned from the Popular Science magizine. It is amazing stuff to say the least. Some People say we'vve no chance to survive this, but when I read/see what is going with this tech. I feel better.
Thnaks agaqin for the links!


From MIT's Technology Review, there's


"Gary, I don't know why KitP put up several links to anti-science sites that deny fossil fuel use is warming the planet"

Maybe becuase he is an independent thinker instead of a brain dead cult follower.

Here's another one:



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Kit P

Wow, Julie. Cheap solar junk at high prices. Good discovery!!

Made a trip to Harbor Freight to bu a solar lighthouse and some more rechargeable batteries to fix the solar lights I bought last year. If you are going to buy cheap stuff, go too a cheap stuff store. I do recommend solar lighting for decorative purposes but not anyplace where yous would actually need the light. I replaced the solar lights where I need them with a 12V LED set that uses 5 watts. The LED set with twice as many path lights cost the same as a similar quality 12V system that uses regular bulbs. The reason for the lower overall cost per unit of light is that a much smaller transformer is needed.


Kit Peepee said this nonsense:

It is also incorrect to assume the soil is going to degrade. Want to bet garsky lives in a an apartment in the city and had never tended a garden and compost pile?

Yep, I want to bet. Put some money behind your asinine opinions, big shot.

For the record, I do not live in an apartment, I live in the suburbs and have been composting, and gardening for over 10 years.

As for the soil not degrading, one of the causes of desertification is deforestation, i.e., removing the biomass that nurtures a lot of lower-level organisms that continually re-enrich the soil.

Kit P

Garsky, I do no have much patients with pseudo environmentalists who endlessly recite some mantra like 'desertification' to oppose paraprofessionals are actually trying to solve environmental problems.

We have to wonder why garsky is concerned with desertification. Are the women of his suburbanite tribe ranging father and rather to gather fire wood causing the dessert to expand?

Here is the short course in the science of 'desertification' relating to organic material and fuel. The root cause of wind erosion is lack of organic material to hold the soil together. The organic material also hold scarce moisture. On the other hand, too much organic material creates a fire hazard that destroys the semi-arid forest. When it rains, soil is wasted way creating havoc in the watershed.

Farmers and foresters use agronomist to help them determine how much biomass to harvest and how to maintain the soil for the environment and crops they are growing. Check out Www.Soilfoodweb.com

David B. Benson

It appears that adding biochar to the soil aids in retaining moisture. See the currently first article in


a review and summary by Dominic Woolf.

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Don't you think ? Gas Prices are increasing continuous. If it will like that for some time more , then surely these price will be very competitive to cellulosic ethanol. In fact, cellulosic ethanol is too expensive today.


this promise never been done till now we are in 2010

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Is Zymetis still even in existence?

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A bacteria? How neat that it was found in the US and that it is capable of doing that!

Air Purifier

If this is the most economical way to produce biofuels why isn't it being used today?

Therapist New York

Is this research still ongoing? Any positive progress yet? I was excited to read this article but you said if they could do this by the end of the year it'd be of great value.
3 years later and still haven't heard of this.

Rug Cleaning Los Angeles

I'm glad this is less expensive, reducing the cost of that ethanol to make it competitive with gas would be a huge advancement!

Underwater Video Camera

Scrap fiber into ethanol, how interesting...wonder if it worked.

Discount Furniture Santa Monica

I love that there are people out there that are dedicated to figuring out how to improve the things that we consume on a daily basis.

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