New Study Shows Large Volumes of Cellulosic BiofuelsCan Be Sustainably Produced by 2030

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (Tuesday, February 10, 2009) - Large-scale production of advanced biofuels beyond the level of the Renewable Fuel Standard is achievable and sustainable by 2030, with accelerated development of biofuel and agricultural technology. The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) today welcomed the release of The 90-Billion Gallon Biofuel Deployment Study, a new report by Sandia National Laboratories and General Motors Corp. that investigates the challenges and feasibility of increasing biofuel production targets to 90 billion gallons.

Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial and Environmental Section, hailed the findings, saying, “This new study shows clearly that building U.S. production of cellulosic biofuels is a sound way to significantly reduce U.S. reliance on imported petroleum in the transportation sector. The study uses relatively conservative assumptions about the development of cellulosic biorefineries as well as the availability and possible yields of biomass to show that large-scale production of cellulosic biofuels can be done. Moreover, cellulosic biofuels can compete with high prices for oil while requiring investment equal to or less than that needed to find and develop new sources of domestic oil. And this large volume can be produced without reducing existing grain production.

 “The U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard sets a target of producing 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels by 2022. This study shows that a modest target of 45 billion gallons of cellulosic biofuels by 2030 can be achieved by maintaining the same pace of technology development and using available crop and forest residues as well as dedicated energy crops and trees. It also shows that as technology development and biomass availability accelerate, targets up to 90 billion gallons can be reached. Continued federal support can help the industry quicken the development of the necessary technology and weather the risk of oil price volatility.”

Sandia National Laboratories’ Biofuels Deployment Model was used to complete the 90 billion gallon study, which would displace nearly a third of projected transportation fuel use in 2030. The key findings include:

  • Producing 90 billion gallons of biofuels could reduce direct U.S. greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 87 coal-fired electricity plants.
  •   Large volumes of cellulosic biofuels can be produced from already identified biomass and resources without displacing crop production.
  • Cellulosic biofuels could compete without incentives with oil priced between $70 and $90 per barrel in 2030, with accelerated development of technology and feedstocks.
  • The investment in cellulosic biorefineries would be comparable to that required to expand domestic oil exploration and production to equivalent levels.
  • Building the necessary transportation and distribution infrastructure is a challenge but not an insurmountable obstacle.

Neal Gutterson, president & CEO of Mendel Biotechnology, a developer of sustainable, dedicated energy crops, noted, “The 90-Billion Gallon Biofuel Deployment Study is broadly consistent with our own view on the sustainability of large-scale cellulosic biofuel production. It is particularly encouraging, as their assumptions on the rates of yield improvement with perennial grasses are very conservative. The tools of biotechnology are being deployed to great effect by Mendel and other developers, such as Ceres, to accelerate the yield improvement curve for dedicated energy crops.”

“Non-food, dedicated energy crops are available today and will play a key role in simultaneously advancing the scale and sustainability of the cellulosic biofuels industry,” said Richard Hamilton, chief executive of Ceres, Inc. “This study used very conservative yield projections but still demonstrates we are pursuing the right technologies and public policy choices. Biofuels from non-food dedicated energy crops can make a very large dent in petroleum dependence and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Tjerk de Ruiter, CEO of Genencor – Division of Danisco, added, “We believe continued commitment from industry and government will ensure a future for biofuels, as the Sandia research confirms. Genencor's technology is helping both to increase efficiency of current ethanol and also fast-track ethanol from biomass. The study makes clear that continued support of R&D and initial commercialization, along with infrastructure investment, will be critical to meet production targets and large-scale deployment of 2nd generation biofuels.”

“Novozymes applauds and encourages scientific research to ensure that policies and future direction for biofuels are well-founded.  The GM-Sandia study confirms the very favorable long-term outlook for biofuels.  From our perspective, Novozymes will be ready with commercial-scale volumes of enzymes for cellulosic biofuels in 2010 to support this growing industry,” added Lars Hansen, President, Novozymes North America.

Erickson continued, “The biotechnology and advanced biofuels industry is working diligently to make commercial production of cellulosic biofuels a reality in the near future. There are more than 30 existing and planned cellulosic biorefineries set to begin production of advanced biofuels within the next few years. Many other projects and promising technologies are on the drawing board. These pioneer cellulosic biofuel facilities will prove that the technology works and that the industry can meet and exceed the goals established in the Renewable Fuel Standard. As oil prices rise, the need for domestically produced advanced biofuels should remain a priority for U.S. policymakers and consumers.”

About BIO
BIO is the world's largest trade association representing biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations across the United States and in more than 30 other nations. BIO members are involved in the research and development of innovative healthcare, agricultural, industrial and environmental biotechnology products. BIO also produces the BIO International Convention, the world’s largest gathering of the biotechnology industry, along with industry-leading investor and partnering meetings held around the world. BIOtechNOW is BIO's blog chronicling “innovations transforming our world” and the BIO Newsletter is the organization’s bi-weekly email newsletter. Subscribe to the BIO Newsletter.