[Read the opposing view to this opinion piece, “Advanced Biofuels: Nothing’s Perfect, But There’s A Lot of Good,” by Joanne Ivancic, executive director of Advanced Biofuels USA.]
– by Almuth Ernsting, co-director, Biofuelwatch (excerpted version reprinted with permission from Independent Science News)
Now-bankrupt KiOr biofuels site in Columbus, Mississippi (Photo: Independent Science News)
Biofuels consumed today are usually ethanol made from the sugar in sugar cane (or sugar beet) or they may be made from starch in grains. In the U.S. this is mostly corn starch. Alternatively, biodiesel may be made from plant oils such as soybean or canola oil.
Cellulosic biofuels, on the other hand, are biofuels made from crop residues (e.g. corn stover), wood, or whole plants, especially grasses (e.g. switchgrass). Cellulosic biofuels include cellulosic ethanol (made by isolating, breaking down and then fermenting the complex sugars in the cell walls of plants), as well as ‘drop in biofuels.’
In November 2014, cellulosic biofuel company KiOR filed for bankruptcy, having shut down their refinery in Columbus, Mississippi earlier that year. The reasons behind KiOR’s failure are simple: Most of the time, they couldn’t get their technology to work enough to produce biofuels and when they did manage it, yields were far lower than KiOR had claimed.
The plant, built to produce 13 million gallons of biofuels a year, produced a mere 133,000 gallons in 2013, sold another 97,000 gallons in early 2014, and then shut down. KiOR had claimed to achieve a yield of 67 gallons from each ton of dry biomass and to be working towards a target of 90 gallons/ton. Yet according to internal documents cited in Mississippi’s lawsuit, KiOR’s actual yields remained a mere 20-22 gallons/ton.