Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Kevin Bullis

A View from Kevin Bullis

The Real Costs of Cellulosic Ethanol

New figures get beyond startup company hype.

  • November 24, 2009

Ethanol giant POET says it can make ethanol from cellulosic sources–rather than the corn grain it’s usually made from in the United States–for costs that are approaching that of corn grain ethanol. Last year, when it started a pilot plant for making ethanol from corn cobs (one of many potential cellulosic sources), it cost $4.13 to make a gallon of ethanol. Now it costs just $2.35 per gallon. In comparison, corn grain ethanol costs about $1.60 to $1.90 a gallon, a cost heavily dependent on the price of corn and natural gas. The company hopes to get costs below $2 a gallon.

That’s considerably more than the $1 per gallon figure that some startups are claiming, but who knows if those estimates will pan out. The $2.35 figure from POET seems solid–it comes from a company that knows how to make large amounts of ethanol, and the figure includes all of the relevant costs: “interest, depreciation, wages, benefits, repairs, maintenance, insurance, etc.,” according to a company spokesperson. It seems like a good indication that cellulosic ethanol could soon be competitive with conventional ethanol, and fossil fuels.

A number of factors have helped bring costs down, the company says.

· Chemical raw materials required in the process have been reduced, resulting in an operating cost savings of $0.20 per gallon.

· The energy used in the pretreatment process has been reduced by more than half.

· Alternative energy technology has been demonstrated to provide all of the energy for the cellulosic ethanol plant and at least 80 percent of the adjacent corn-based plant.

· Enzyme cost has been cut in half and is expected to continue to decline.

· Through continuous optimization of the process, entire unit operations have been eliminated, reducing overall capital cost by over 40 percent.

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.

Subscribe today
More from Sustainable Energy

Can we sustainably provide food, water, and energy to a growing population during a climate crisis?

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.