Second generation biofuels are a potentially “green” energy source that have something else in common with solar energy: they seem perpetually to be another 10 or 20 years away from widespread commercial viability. But a new Italian plant now claims it can produce commercial quantities of the wonder fuel. The FT reports:
A $150m facility that opened recently in Crescentino is said to be the first in the world to produce “second-generation” or advanced bioethanol on a commercial scale using enzymatic conversion. It uses agricultural waste and arundo donax, a fast-growing kind of bamboo, rather than scarce foodstuffs….“We will turn agricultural waste into millions of litres of low-emission green fuel, proving that cellulosic ethanol is no longer a distant dream. It is here, it is happening, and it is ready for large-scale commercialisation,” [Peder Holk Nielsen, chief executive of Denmark’s Novozymes] said of the facility in northern Italy, which has the capacity to produce 75m litres a year….Nonetheless, the way ahead is fraught with difficulties, from proving the new technology can compete in cost with conventional gasoline to regulatory hurdles and, in the case of Italy, bureaucratic obstacles.
The advanced biofuels the Italian facility is working to produce are vastly superior to those being produced en masse by the US. To achieve targets set by the 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard, American refiners are making ethanol from corn, and in so doing are raising emissions, driving up global food prices, and possibly helping incite riots abroad.So far, America hasn’t been able to produce second-generation biofuels in commercial quantities. Churning out significant quantities of cellulosic ethanol at cost-effective levels would boost Italy’s domestic energy security and possibly bring down the country’s high electricity prices. If so, we’d hope to see the US follow suit and increased its advanced biofuel production.We’ll be watching what happens at the Crescentino plant, but in the meantime US policymakers have work to do. Mandating the production of corn ethanol is green policy at its worst; it’s time to end the biofuel boondoggle.[Arundo donax image courtesy of Wikimedia]