The good news about the biofuels industry is that it's about to make the transition to next-generation, non-food-based feedstocks. The bad news is, this transition will slow capacity growth by a lot. But notice that means growth slows, not that capacity itself declines.
The news comes from a new report from Lux Research, "Emerging Feedstocks and Fuels Spark Biofuel Capacity Expansion Through 2017." It says that, between 2013 and 2017, the industry's growth rate will slow to 3.2% from the historically high growth rate of 19.6% it's enjoyed since 2005. In terms of quantity, that means it will grow from 53.2 billion gallons per year (BGY) in 2013 to 60.4 BGY in 2017.
New, higher-yielding fuels include renewable diesel, as well as butanol. As we told you recently, renewable diesel is chemically different from biodiesel. Along with butanol, it can offer higher blend ratios than first-generation food-based ethanol and vegetable oil-based biofuels like biodiesel. That's one reason for the transition to second-generation feedstocks like cellulosic biomass and waste oils. Another reason for the transition is to avoid the problems associated with first-generation feedstocks that are based either on food crops or on non-food crops that compete for water or land use with food crops.
The biofuels industry is about to make the transition to next-generation, non-food-based feedstocks. The bad news is, this transition will slow capacity growth by a lot between now and 2017. But that means growth slows, not that capacity declines. (Source: Lux Research)
Those second-generation feedstocks aren't mature yet, but they will be able to help realize long-term expansion in biofuels capacity, said Andrew Soare, lead author of the report and a senior analyst with Lux Research, in a press release. "Next-generation feedstocks like waste oils and cellulosic biomass are not tied up in the food supply and could unlock significant economic advantages, assuming novel conversions commercialize," he said.
Soare and other Lux Research analysts built a database of more than 1,700 biofuel production facilities in 82 countries, including capacity data through 2017. This made several things clear, including the nearly 20% growth rate. The data also revealed that ethanol represented 65.9% of global biofuel capacity in 2013, but will only rise to 66.0% in 2017. First-generation biodiesel added up to slightly less than half that amount at 17.1 BGY, and will reach 18.6 BGY in 2017. Of total global ethanol production today, 81.9% is based on corn and soy feedstocks, while 62.1% of biodiesel is based on rapeseed, palm, and soy feedstocks.
Predicting what will happen with next-generation biofuels based on novel feedstocks is more of a challenge. New renewable diesel, butanol, biojet, and biocrude, along with other fuels, constitute 1.9% of global biofuel capacity. The analysts concluded that they will grow at a much faster rate than first-generation fuels, at an annual growth rate of 18.7% from now through 2017, raising capacity share to 3.3%.
Renewable diesel will lead the fuels pack, while next-generation feedstock capacity growth will be dominated by cellulosic biomass and waste oils. Renewable diesel from waste will become a key biofuel process. Producers of butanol and biocrude will have a minor effect on overall biofuel capacity. Producers of cellulosic ethanol have announced a capacity of 782 millions of gallons per year (MGY), but in the study analysts said they actually expect only 384 MGY to be made.
First off Lux, like Pike, EIA and EA rarely are correct or even in the ballpark predicting the future as I've watched them for 10+ yrs now.
I don't see much future in the celulose derived biofuels as all too costly/gal-btu. Nor do I see that changing as so little advances despite so much research, investment money for 4 + decades now.
On corn if fed to cattle as most is, 10lbs produces 1 lb of cow fat, not even protein, in fact loses muscle mass just getting fat. Yet it's very hard to find grass fed beef. BTW they overfeed antibiotics to them because grain is an unnatural food for them and makes them sick so antibiotis in massive doses.
By most any measure cattle are the biggest danger to the food supply as more grain goes to feeding them workdwide. I still like dead cow, ummmm!
Vs if made into ethanol not only fuel but corn oil and far higher quality food from the 7 lbs of dried mash/DDG's loaded with corn and yeast protein. Vs 1 lb of fat from cows? Ethanol only uses the low quality corn starch. Everything else is still there plus a lot of protein, etc.
So in reality US corn ethanol no longer takes from the food supply. In fact double the food value vs feeding it to cows. Also the field corn used isn't even eatible by humans, designed for animal feed.
I hope a good process that converts much more of biomass's energy into cost effective liquid fuels but not holding my breath based on their history.
It's ok though as biomass can be used for cogen heating/power with a simple heat engine can replace much oil and coal at a low cost making wood pellets for fuel them. After FF's are gone in 20-30 yrs for burning up north will need a backup heating fuel and biomass is likely it.
As I drive EV I just need unlimited range generator fuel rarely for long trips at around 100mpg gas use plus EV charging range. And if I wanted to make my own it would likely be from distilling certain kinds of plastics into gasoline, diesel mostly or used veg oil.
Thanks for your comments, Trenth. I agree with the scenario you describe, and we've reported on waste-to-fuels efforts several times. Some are listed in the "Related posts" links at the end of the blog.
We need to change out focus to waste to fuels. Even though eventually these will all be biofuels, we should use our biomass for food, clothing, lumber and such, then convert it to fuel once we are done with it.
There is plenty of waste to convert to fuels, and the technology is developed.
Well written article that clearly highlights the underlying competition between the demand for renewable energy and the need for food crops (and the associated land/water needed for growing food). Although the next-gen biofuel transition is slow, I'm glad to see that this issue is being addressed early so that we can work to have a winning solution for everyone in the future.
Although this sounds like mixed news regarding second-generation biofuels, it's actually good news overall. What may not be evident from all the numbers is the fact that, even though the proportion of second-generation fuels will decrease and capacity won't grow as fast for a couple years, capacity is still increasing overall. I was disappointed to find out that first-generation food-based and crops-based fuels are still in the lead by such a big margin. But at least the transition to second-generation fuels is in sight.
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