Is there enough feedstock for cellulosic biofuels? Yes, says review, but new R&D focus will help

In Maryland, Robert Kozak of Atlantic Biomass Conversions contributes a thoughtful approach to answering these questions posed in Biofuels Digest: “As the first wave of cellulosic biorefineries launch — is there really enough affordable feedstock for the next wave? Can growers make enough money to justify the switch…and risk?”

Kozak’s answer, after outlining the current weaknesses in current biomass development philosophy for feed, fuel, chemicals and bio-based products, is: “Yes, if we realistically address the financial realities of feedstock producers and feedstock buyers.”

As President of Atlantic Biomass Conversions and co-founder of Advanced Biofuels USA, Ohio native Kozak conducts research in enzymatic conversion of biomass to sugars; and also serves Advanced Biofuels USA as an expert on engines and fuels. In preparing this thought piece, he draws on his experiences attacking the biomass recalcitrance of a wide variety of potential feedstock for fuel, energy, chemicals and bioproducts. From switchgrass, miscanthus and other grasses to dandelion roots and carrot and sugar beet residues, Kozak brings a uniquely informed perspective to this timely topic.

Kozak concludes that the combination of saturated markets and increasing production costs may soon cause corn growers to either start returning land to CRP and other programs (and increasing US taxpayer costs) or to find other crops. In response, he advocates taking a closer look at what we have learned about biomass conversion technologies over the past 10 years along with farm policy. An excerpt from the paper:

So, with approximately 20-25 percent of current US corn production being used for fuel ethanol, the questions for growers become:

• Could portions of this land be used for lower nutrient input biomass crops that would produce comparable income from ethanol or other biofuels and biomaterials?

•  Could corn land not within current shipping distance of existing ethanol refineries also be used for biofuel/biomaterial crops?

“I think the right answers to these questions could not only retain current grower incomes but more importantly, could be an opportunity to build the foundation of a true Advanced Biofuel and Biomaterial System,” Kozak writes.

Kozak proposes root crops as a viable solution to these challenges. He bases his arguments on cell wall structure, lack of pesky lignin, and potential for over-wintering in situ to address storage logistics, etc.

Kozak admits that these are very preliminary thoughts on a complex issue which deserves greater scrutiny. He also suggests convening an action-oriented conference or a series of workshops where experts involved in all aspects of the subject can gather for intense discussions.
Advanced Biofuels USA, a nonprofit educational organization with a mission to advocate for the understanding, development and use of advanced biofuels, published this paper as an initial step addressing the problems of providing affordable, sustainable feedstock for the transition to renewable fuels and bio-based products and as a way to encourage experts to convene for further conversations.
This is not a statement of Advanced Biofuels USA policy. A thought-piece, it reflects the considered individual opinions only of Robert Kozak.

The complete Kozak paper can be downloaded here.

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