So far, we’ve explored a number of benefits and advantages offered by cellulosic biofuels: renewable, sustainable, economically competitive, diverse product platform, fungible and compatible, on demand and storable, energy efficient, clean burning, and localized.  Today, we conclude our series describing why advanced biofuels are even more deserving of respect and enthusiasm today than they were nearly a decade ago when they were propelled into the spotlight with great fanfare.

In this final installment, we consider some of my favorite brag points, all demonstrating that the promises of advanced biofuels are no longer somewhere in the distant future, but are very real today.  For years, we’ve referred to these lignocellulosic biofuels and advanced biofuels as “next generation” biofuels.  Today and looking forward, they’re still “advanced”, but they’re now based on current generation technology.  These characteristics, particularly, are why I’m convinced that advanced biofuels are sexier today than ever before: because they’re actually real.  You can see, touch, even purchase them for yourself.  In fact, one of the reasons they’re so appealing is that you may even be using some today without realizing it.  That’s when a clean, renewable, domestic biofuel turns a corner and ceases to be a niche product and becomes a staple of our economy.

De-risked Technology
Successful and sustainable technology must be demonstrated, mature, and ready for commercialization.  For a couple of decades, the running joke has been that cellulosic biofuels have always been 3-5 years out.  That revolving timeline is no longer relevant, as commercial scale biorefineries are operating today with several more on schedule to begin operations in 2014 and 2015.  Importantly, we’re now seeing private investment and market-based capital going into commercial biorefineries, a good indication that the technology is ready for prime time.
Scalable We consume a lot of oil.  In the U.S. alone, we consumed nearly 135 billion gallons of gasoline in 2013.  Attractive fuel alternatives or complements need to be easily scaled to make a significant impact.  More important than just scale alone is that they have to be sustainably scalable.  For example, several purpose grown energy crops give us the potential to produce up to 1,000 gallons or more of clean, domestic, renewable, sustainable, market-competitive fuel from just one acre.  Importantly, many of these energy crops are perennials that come back year after year (even decade after decade in some cases) without replanting and they are well suited to millions of acres of underutilized land without disrupting our food or feed supply.  In fact, some energy crops like switchgrass have been shown to meet multiple demands from the same acre, able to serve as a good forage grass for grazing cattle and also as a source of biomass for advanced biofuels, biochemicals, and biopower.
Commercial Ready Securing our energy future requires meaningful progress toward transitioning to more sustainable sources in the very near term.  The feedstocks, conversion technologies, and distribution infrastructure for biomass based fuels and energy are commercial ready today, with the first full commercial scale lignocellulosic biorefineries operating today or commissioning near-term.  Importantly, most of these facilities are driven by substantial private investment and projected to demonstrate positive economics, driving future market investment.

With so many good reasons to continue our well-intentioned pursuit of a cleaner, greener, more sustainable, and economically advantaged source of energy to fuel our economy—and importantly, with the opportunity at hand today—what’s the holdup?  Rather than drag this series out any more, you’ll need to check back for a future Genera Energy blog series addressing some of the technical, market, and political challenges affecting the timeline for mainstreaming advanced cellulosic biofuels.

At the risk of mangling multiple phrases I often heard on my grandparents’ farm growing up, if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.  And if you know something is the right thing to do, you’re just wasting time if you’re not doing it now.  And if you have the option and the know-how to do something the right way instead of the wrong way, always do it the right way.  So my conclusion regarding advanced cellulosic biofuels?  Do It Right, Right Now!

By Kelly Tiller, President and CEO