More reasons to be optimistic about cellulosic biofuels

A few weeks ago I wrote about how many fear that cellulosic biofuels will always be 5 years away. Two weeks ago I bookmarked this story on Biopact about Mascoma's plans to build a cellulosic refinery in Tennessee and to run it on switchgrass. But in just the last 24 hours I've heard a presentation and stumbled across three additional stories that made me think the sector is really getting some momentum.

The presentation (available here [note: at the company's request I have removed this presentation]) was by SunEthanol. The company was just formed a year ago and is working on microbial consolidated bioprocessing like Mascoma. Interestingly, SunEthanol's main bug was found at the bottom of a lake in Massachusetts. Does that make it extra domestic? I don't know, but they're shooting to provide the bioreactor for a 6 to 10 million gallon per year pilot project up and running in 2009-10 that will be build by a major player in the corn ethanol world.

Then there's this story, also from Biopact, about Abengoa "openning" a ~11 million gallon per year pilot plant in Nebraska. The plant would actually act more as a test bed for research than piloting a single process, but Abengoa has generally been on the enzymatic processing path. I don't get a sense from Abengoa's press release that the plant is actually operational yet, but it still sounds like it will be the largest cellulosic refining facility in the US pretty soon.

Speaking of enzymes, Genencor announced the commercial availability of a complex of enzymes for cellulosic refining. According to this report in, you guessed it, Biopact, the mix of enzymes is called Accellerase 1000 and is part of a family of products that they'll tailor for different feedstocks and systems. Neither the article nor the product sheet include any pricing info.

Then there's this last bit of news, reported by Green Car Congress's Mike Millikin (drawn from a fuller article by Ethanol Statistics), about a Netherlands based company, Royal Nedalco, and the company's plan to skip a pilot plant and go straight to a 50 million gallon per year plant. Apparently they're planning to use a yeast, which would make me a little skeptical since efficient conversion of cellulose and hemicellulose by a yeast would take a lot of genetic reprogramming, but apparently they've signed a license and joint development agreement with Mascoma.

So still no commercial gallons of cellulosic biofuels, but lots of steps moving in the right direction.