Biomass an option over corn ethanol


Steve Chiotakis: Crude is still much in demand. There's been a leveling off, though, in developed countries such as the United States. It's not just the recession -- it also has to do with cleaner alternatives. And as Marketplace's Jennifer Collins reports from the Sustainability Desk, one of those products just got a lot cheaper.

Jennifer Collins: The product is a type of ethanol. Not energy-intensive corn ethanol that uses lots of land and water.

Announcer: The same process that converts corn into ethanol works with biomass, which is just another name for the waste from fields and forests.

Biomass ethanol is less energy-intensive, but it requires an expensive enzyme to produce. Now biotech company Novozymes has developed an cheaper enzyme that can make biomass ethanol for less than $2 a gallon.

Cynthia Bryant is with Novozymes:

Cynthia Bryant: So really the ultimate goal is to be competitive with gasoline.

Bryant says this new enzyme brings biomass ethanol closer to that goal.

Jeremy Martin is with the Union of Concerned Scientists:

Jeremy Martin: In the next few years, when we see the first facilities coming online, that's when the cost-effectiveness of this technology will be tested.

And, he says, that's when we'll see if biomass ethanol shows up at the pump.

I'm Jennifer Collins for Marketplace.

About the author

Jennifer Collins is a reporter for the Marketplace portfolio of programs. She is based in Los Angeles, where she covers media, retail, the entertainment industry and the West Coast.
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Cellulosic ethanol is a more correct term to the biomass reference that sometimes is used in the industry. While there are challenges with the production of cellulosic ethanol with costs, the industry is making quick progress. Novozymes has just delivered on their 2010 promise to provide a commercially viable enzyme for cellulosic ethanol production with our Cellic Ctec2 product. This product enables our partners to produce cellulosic ethanol at a production cost below $2/gal when their first commercial scale plants are fully operational, which we expect to be in 2011-2012.

One of the greatest benefits of cellulosic ethanol is that it can be produced using material we consider to be waste, allowing us to do more with the readily available resources we have today. There have been several studies on the availability of lignocellulosic material for liquid transport fuels production. In these studies, care is taken to consider the amount of lignocellulosic material that is already earmarked for other purposes as well as preserving our environment. According to one of these studies, the Billion Ton Study performed by the US DOE and USDA, there is enough lignocellulosic material currently produced in the US to replace over one third of our liquid transport demand. This is lignocellulosic material that is available today, that preserves our forestlands and our overall environment.

I find it poor journalism to state "biomass" when that simply refers to any biological mass which corn is. I believe what the journalist is referring to is cellulosic ethanol which has be plagued with not only exspensive enzymes, but more importantly inconsistant bio product. Second crop waste is still used for other products today. Do you not need to grow crops then for the waste? And I thought we where trying not to cut down forests? How will this help our enviromental issue?

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