There’s a couple of things going against ethanol as a mainstream alternative fuel (if that’s not too much of a contradictory term).
1) In the US, it’s mostly made from corn, which is inefficient and fuels the food vs fuel argument.
2) The transport issue. It’s not possible to move it around in pipelines as it is with petroleum.
The light at the end of the pipeline, the chance to make quite a bit of this better, is cellulosic ethanol. Instead of being made from corn it’s made from organic matter, stuff that would be otherwise considered waste. Not only does it remove the food vs fuel argument (except in the eyes of some herbivore forest creatures) it’s also much more efficient in producing the fuel.
And finally, with the advent of this announcement, the issue of transport will be partially addressed as well.
When I went to the Australian launch for BioPower back in January we had a scientist from the CSIRO there, who told Rico and I that cellulosic probably wasn’t a realistic commercial option here in Australia within his lifetime. Well, it may not be here, but it looks like there will be commercially available cellulosic ethanol much sooner rather than later.
July 2, 2007 –Range Fuels announced today that the company was awarded a construction permit from the state of Georgia to build the first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in the United States. Ground breaking will take place this summer in Treutlen County, Georgia for a 100-million-gallon-per-year cellulosic ethanol plant that will use wood waste from Georgia’s forests as its feedstock. Phase 1 of the plant is scheduled to complete construction in 2008 with a production capacity of 20 million gallons a year.
20 million gallons per year is a drop in the ocean. Acually, even at a full capacity of 100 million litres a year it’s still small potatoes in terms of the US market.
The good thing about this, though, is that the process Range Fuels uses is quite scalable and can be reproduced in bigger or smaller production facilities to come in the future.
Range have successfully tested their process on multiple feedstocks, too, so there won’t be wholesale use of and dependence on one source only.
This is all good news for E85, which will eventually translate into good news for Saab as well (if they can get their cars into the US market some time soon).