Upsy-Daisy – Cellulosic Ethanol Making Progress?

I have been on record several times as a supporter of ethanol for strategic reasons, but skeptical of the economics of corn ethanol as an investment. Of late we have begun to analyze cellulosic ethanol (still not sure when it becomes competitive, but we are looking), so I thought it might be useful to chronicle some of the recent activities in that area.

From Cleantech Investing, a mention of Mascoma’s $30 mm capital raise (they are claiming a pilot plant in 2008. They are working on developing and genetic engineering of thermophilic ethanol producing bacteria that can ferment at higher temperatures.

Also a recent note on the Energy Blog about Broin Companies, the largest dry mill ethanol producer, is planning to build a 125 mm gallon/yr commercial scale to produce cellulosic ethanol from carbon fiber and stover in 2009 (though it’s noted that they are looking for DOE funding to do this).

And for those of you who haven’t seen it, we’ve mentioned before, BP has announced intentions and will shortly be awarding the location of a $500 mm Energy Biosciences Institute at a US or UK university to study these areas in large part. We mentioned it here. I have been quoted numerous times saying (find a good discussion in the Red Herring article here) if you don’t know what the major oil companies are doing in cleantech, you don’t know what’s happening in the sector. I am not backimg away from that.

We also had a previous mention of of the Energy Blog’s article on Goldman Sach’s investment in Iogen. Iogen is a fully-integrated cellulosic ethanol play that has gotten lots of attention.

But on the downside, the bar for corn ethanol production will continue to move as the technology advances. Note an interesting R&D company I had the pleasure of meeting called CeraMem whose multi-channel ceramic membrane technologies are targeted among other things at more efficient ethanol production (I’m sure they are not alone in working on these advances).

And I would be remiss without mentioning the recent column on Inside Greentech about the biomass gasification vs. cellulosic ethanol. They make the point that combustion based gasification processes are still an excellent way to make fuel compared to cellulosic fermentation, and have potential to scoop some of the cellulosic ethanol debate (and are still arguably cheaper today).

So I guess the jury is still out?

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