Biotechnology Breakthroughs Can Help Drivers Reduce Fuel Costs

WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 9, 2006) -- The U.S. Department of Energy last week reported that gasoline prices had topped $3.00 per gallon in some regions of the United States. Reacting to the announcement, Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) President & CEO Jim Greenwood said, “American drivers today face record-high fuel prices as worldwide demand for oil continues to outpace petroleum production and refining capacity. Even higher gasoline prices are possible this year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. If America is to deal with the problem of high fuel prices, we must develop and scale up a less expensive domestic fuel supply, and ethanol is the best, most readily available solution. Most people are not aware that biotechnology now offers ways to dramatically increase ethanol production and bring down fuel prices.”

Ethanol from corn currently contributes over 4 billion gallons to the fuel supply every year. And under the renewable fuel standard mandated in last year’s energy bill, ethanol production will double in the next few years. “Agricultural biotech is helping farmers increase corn yields so we can make more ethanol. Added to that, industrial biotech companies are developing new enzymes that will make current ethanol processes more efficient. But we need to produce much more than 8 billion gallons of ethanol if we are to lower fuel prices, end our addiction to oil, and enhance our energy security. We could produce more than 70 billion gallons of ethanol or more each year if we use the entire corn plant as well as other crop residues and dedicated energy crops,” Greenwood continued.

“Agricultural crops and plant matter containing cellulose are an untapped reservoir of energy that is abundantly available throughout the United States. Our industrial biotech companies are working with nature to produce new enzymes called cellulases that can convert this cellulose to sugars that can then be fermented into ethanol. This is a dramatic scientific breakthrough for the ethanol industry,” said Greenwood.

According to published reports, advances in biotechnology now make production of ethanol from cellulose cost-competitive with gasoline. One recent study shows that biotech processes already being used today could produce ethanol from cellulose for less than $1.60 a gallon compared to refined petroleum currently costing as much as $2.60 per gallon (prior to state and federal taxes).

Improvements to the process through research and development underway coupled with expanded production promise to reduce the cost of ethanol from cellulose to below 90 cents per gallon, according to a Natural Resources Defense Council report. For every one-cent reduction in the cost of producing ethanol, American drivers would keep $1 billion in their pockets. “There is enormous potential for ethanol from all feedstocks to reduce the cost of a fill-up for consumers and replace petroleum in transportation fuel,” said Greenwood.

Brent Erickson, BIO Executive Vice President, Industrial & Environmental Section, stated, “We need to begin building modern biorefineries that use industrial biotechnology to produce ethanol from cellulose .These biorefineries can also make green plastics and renewable chemicals from grain or other plant matter. We need to produce all the ethanol we can and by converting a larger share of our agricultural biomass resources to ethanol we can ensure that Americans have access to a stable supply of less-expensive transportation fuel over the long term. Farmers will benefit and consumers will benefit if we start building biorefineries now that can convert cellulose to ethanol.

“Last year’s energy bill contained several incentives to help jumpstart the construction of biorefineries and quickly reach production levels necessary to meet America’s growing need for transportation fuels. But more needs to be done if Congress and the administration intend to hurry a future where consumers pay less for transportation fuel. We need to start by fully funding the President’s advanced energy initiative and then follow up with new aggressive policies that move us beyond research to commercialization of advanced biorefineries in all regions of the country.”

BIO represents more than 1,100 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations across the United States and 31 other nations. BIO members are involved in the research and development of healthcare, agricultural, industrial and environmental biotechnology products.