May 17, 2006

Professor Kammen - The Future of Cellulosic Ethanol

Viewers of the 60 Minutes broadcast The Ethanol Solution were introduced to Professor Daniel M. Kammen, founding director of U.C. Berkeley's Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL).

Readers of the BioConversion Blog may recall an article he wrote in April called Achieving Energy Autonomy

Konrad Imielinski of GoG2G; Converting Green to Green Blog sent several questions to Professor Kammen this month. He treats us to a startling assessment of the potential speed of change between the oil and ethanol energy paradigms.

Konrad Imielinski: Which technology has the biggest chance to replace oil eventually? Some say, that ethanol is still a short term solution and that hydrogen has the true long term potential, what is your comment on this?

Professor Kammen: No! Corn-ethanol may be a short-term solution - i.e., a transitional mechanism to get us to ethanol - but since corn-based ethanol is not a winner on a greenhouse gas basis (while cellulosic ethanol is), that is where we want to end up. A cellulosic-ethanol industry could, we estimate, make up 1/3 – 1/2 of our total gasoline use over time, and more if plug-in hybrids running on ethanol are part of the mix. We have details on this online at: ERG Biofuel Analysis Meta-Model (EBAMM).

KI: What is your prediction in five years from now: would E85 have significant portion of the fuel market in US? How much?

PK: I’d say in 2-4 years E85 will be 15% of US transport fuels

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corndog said...

If cellulosic ethanol can deliver 1/3 to 1/2 of our liquid fuel needs, then OPEC can be brought to heel. It can bring us cheap oil again, but cheap oil will remain only to the extent that America has its GUN (flex-fuel vehicles) ready to pull out of its holster at any attempt to manipulate crude pricing.

What this means to me is that ethanol can put a price ceiling on crude, this is the way competition works. The bad news is that environmental concerns suffer with cheap petroleum.

C. Scott Miller, EDP said...

I think a threshhold has been breached in the consciousness and patience of the average American consumer. We have had energy crises before and let things slide thereafter, but we have never had one coupled with a war during which the price we pay at the pump so obviously was supporting our "enemy" - the cultures supporting terrorism. Brazil breached a threshold 30 years ago and haven't slid back.

The iron is hot now which will impact the nature and timing of legislation support of a paradigm shift. Once the shift is made I can't imagine going back. Effects of the shift will impact the environment in a positive way.

Robert Rapier said...

PK: I’d say in 2-4 years E85 will be 15% of US transport fuels

I wonder if he wants to make a bet on that? E85 couldn't make up 15% (on a BTU equivalent basis) if we turned 100% of the corn crop into ethanol:

E85: Spinning Our Wheels

And since we aren't building commercial cellulose ethanol plants, in 2-4 years the vast majority - if not all - of our ethanol will still come from corn.


C. Scott Miller, EDP said...

I really liked your discussion about corn availability and your mathematical analysis. I highly recommend it to other readers.

I agree that the 2-4 years sounds a bit optimistic. Kammen apparently hasn't been monitoring the resistance to the establishment of conversion technology sites in California that I have.

In his defense though, I have to say that once some legislative and economic dominoes fall in this state we may see a cascade of investment and construction. It won't happen as fast as the digital revolution (how could it?) and the bottleneck will probably be all the NIMBY resistance and environmental impact studies - but it could still be breathtaking in impact.