Corporate biofuel boosters trumpeted their industry's job creation and energy security at a briefing today that highlighted advanced technologies that could enter the market within the next few years.
"This is not really science, this is about production and commercialization," said Bill Fry, CEO of Qteros, a company working on a microbe that can make ethanol from corn or a wide variety of non-food feedstocks.
The company plans to build a "pre-commercial demonstration" bioreactor within the next two years and reach commercial production in three, Fry said, emphasizing high-quality jobs that ethanol industry growth could bring.
Jason Pyle, the CEO of Sapphire Energy -- which is fine-tuning an algae-based biofuel production method that does not require agricultural feedstocks, productive farmland or potable water -- noted that as bio-based replacements for petroleum come into use, the technologies can have effects in the plastics and fertilizer industries.
Pyle's algae-based technology largely avoids the food-versus-fuel debates associated with corn ethanol and even with some forms of cellulosic ethanol, which is produced from inedible plant material but can lead to questions about crop displacement. But Pyle downplayed the market premium for "green" attributes of biofuels, insisting that their real value lies in domestic production, which keeps fuel dollars within the United States.
Industry highlights jobs impact of raising blend limits
A report released today by Growth Energy, an ethanol industry group, said changing gasoline regulations to increase the amount of ethanol that can be blended into fuel sold at gas pumps would create thousands of new jobs and trigger economic growth.
If the blending limit were raised from 10 percent to 15 percent ethanol, more than 136,000 jobs would result, the report says, and the economy would grow by more than $24 billion.
"While there have been many media reports about the struggling ethanol sector, there has been little discussion about the cause," said Larry Leistritz, an agriculture professor at North Dakota State University and author of the report. "Part of the industry's challenge is this regulatory cap."
Calling U.S. EPA's limit of 10 percent ethanol use "arbitrary," the report says even greater economic benefits would result from using a 20 percent ethanol blend.
The industry has lobbied hard in recent months for a higher cap to get past the ethanol "blending wall" -- the limit on how much ethanol the U.S. market can absorb given the 10 percent cap (E&ENews PM, Nov. 11, 2008).
But some technical experts say there is not enough testing to know that vehicle engines could handle higher ethanol blends. Small engines like those found in lawnmowers could also be adversely affected by such a switch, and an Energy Department official said last year that agencies could consider separate standards for autos and non-vehicle engines (E&ENews PM, Oct. 7, 2008).