Overall funding for alternative fuels has shifted from venture capital investment to project financing, aimed at building up first and second facilities and getting them online. Many alternative fuel companies have raised capital from diverse sources, including private equity, loans, and loan guarantees by state and federal governments.
Other sources include corporate partners, such as oil companies interested in scaling up alternative fuels technologies to commercial production levels.
"There's reluctance among some investors because these are unproven technologies," said Soare, going on to say:
In particular, venture capitalists want higher, more likely returns. To mitigate this risk, one of the best strategies fuel companies take is building smaller-scale facilities that leverage existing infrastructure. For example, taking a corn ethanol plant that's no longer producing and retrofitting it to reduce overall cost.
Funding is also decreasing across the board, especially from federal and state governments focused on longer-term goals such as energy diversification and job creation. At the same time, funding from corporations is decreasing somewhat as they reduce investments. "The overall funding of new feedstocks is really a key strategy for oil companies to mitigate the long-term risk of oil price and supply volatility," said Soare.
An earlier Lux Research report on biofuel feedstocks found that by 2030, the available biomass will be insufficient to keep up with demand. Today, more than a billion metric tons of biomass are needed each year for replacing only 3 percent of petroleum-based fuels and chemicals, according to "Finding Feedstocks for the Bio-Based Fuels and Chemicals of Today and 2030."
"By 2030, this number will soar to 3.7 billion metric tons, and meeting the growing challenge will require feedstock innovations such as crop modification, new value chain configurations, and agronomic technology improvements like irrigation and biosensors," said Kalib Kersh, Lux Research analyst and a lead author of the report, in a press release.
This report found that several strategies are being pursued to improve feedstocks. The use of waste, such as municipal solid waste and waste gases like carbon dioxide and flue gas, is increasing. Many universities and companies are pursing research in crop modification, such as breeding plants that are resistance to pests and drought or that can fix their own nitrogen, to reduce their use of agricultural resources. Finally, some alternative fuel makers are developing infrastructure to cut fuel costs and transportation time, such as intermediate conversion facilities that feed into a central processing facility, in a "hub-and-spoke" model.