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better biofuel
The Future Looks Bleak for Biofuels

The next generation of biofuels is floundering, and one of the biggest players in the industry says the promise of these new technologies won’t be realized if oil prices don’t start rebounding. The FT reports:

Advanced biofuel made from agricultural waste — the so called Holy Grail of the alternative energy industry — will not be competitive with conventional fuel until the oil is back to $70-$80 per barrel, DuPont has said. […]

The admission from the US chemicals group, which last week formally opened the world’s largest cellulosic ethanol plant, underscores the challenge facing makers of “second-generation” biofuels. After a decade pursuing an elusive production process, companies are finding their business models threatened by the changing economics of the industry — as well as the politics of the US.

When we speak of the dangers of biofuels and the boondoggle that is our misguided policy attempt to mandate their production, we’re specifically referring to ethanol distilled from corn. This is the most common variety of U.S. biofuel, and far and away the one with the highest quotas—last year corn ethanol made up nearly 80 percent of the biofuels mandated by the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

But advanced biofuels actually do have promise. Unlike their corn cousin, they can be grown in marginal land, so their production doesn’t displace food crops (and therefore send global food prices up, starving the world’s poor). They’re also actually good for the environment and global greenhouse gas emissions, a test corn ethanol fails to pass.

The biofuel industry will hope that government support will make up for the fact that its product can’t compete in today’s fuel market. But rather than funneling government dollars into propping even worthwhile biofuels up, we’d be better served funding the research and development of technologies that would enable ethanol producers to compete on their own merit. Instead, what we have is a woefully inefficient, expensive, and environmentally unfriendly biofuel boondoggle. The sooner we address our RFS problem, the better.

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  • FriendlyGoat

    As long as corn is grown in red states and red remains the color of the Congress, then the “RFS problem” stays with us, no? Why could we possibly think Congress is going to go against corn farmers?

    • f1b0nacc1

      Perhaps we should try an experiment. Lets move the Iowa primary to June (rather than Feb) and see how popular the RFS is. Most of the corn-states are relatively small and contain few votes, so you are unlikely to see the GOP lining up to defend the RFS just to appeal to them.
      I am against corporate welfare whether it is the Exim bank or the RFS, and you will have very little trouble finding a large majority of conservatives (free marketers, to be more precise) who agree with me.

      • FriendlyGoat

        I am not taking my usual ideological stand on this. I am simply making a prediction that I do not believe a red-tinted Congress will do anything dramatic to lower the market demand for corn. We’ll see over time.

        • f1b0nacc1

          As long as Iowa has first position in the Presidential primaries, don’t expect anyone (Red or Blue) to EVER seriously move to get rid of the RFS. After all, Hillary is a big believer in it, and she is no conservative…
          One of the best reasons for disruption of any sort is that it prevents this sort of entrenched interest game from being played….and in fact it is a good reason why you don’t want too much (read: almost any) government intervention in the economy….it raises the stakes of otherwise silly issues.

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  • Fat_Man

    “But advanced biofuels actually do have promise.”

    They promise they will be the fuel of the future forever.

  • Fat_Man

    Robert Rapier has worked in the alternative energy space for many years, before that he worked for major oil companies. He was trained as a chemical engineer.

    Here are a couple of his articles about “advanced” biofuels:

    “Why I Don’t Ride a Unicorn to Work” By Robert Rapier on Jan 29, 2013

    “Cellulosic Ethanol is Going Backwards” By Robert Rapier on Jun 22, 2015 with 51 responses

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