False Promise of Biofuels

Millions, probably billions of dollars have been wasted by investing in biofuel companies in an effort to replace oil.

Fortune magazine recently highlighted the failure of a biofuel company, but there have been many more.

The company Fortune reported on was KIOR, which received a start-up investment from Vinod Khosla. This was not the first investment in biofuels by Khosla where the company went bankrupt.

Range Fuels went bankrupt after Khosla’s initial investment and $86 million in grants from the Department of Energy and the state of Georgia, plus an $80 million loan guarantee from the US government. Overall, Fortune reported that Khosla has invested in a dozen biofuel and biochemical companies.

But KIOR and Range Fuels are merely the tip of the iceberg.

A few more biofuel companies that have gone bankrupt include:

  • Western Biomass Energy LLC
  • Seneca Bioenergy LLC
  • Purified Renewable Energy

Others, such as Algenol, are probably in financial trouble. Algenol recently cut its workforce.

The fundamental problem with KIOR was that it couldn’t achieve the required output or yield to make the company profitable. It claimed it could achieve a yield of 67 gallons of gasoline from a ton of dry biomass, yet apparently never achieved that yield.

These failures highlight the first reason why biofuels are a false promise, while the second reason is equally important:

  1. It’s extremely difficult to achieve the yield necessary to be profitable.
  2. Even if the required yield can be achieved, there is not enough feedstock to permit the production of enough biofuel to replace a significant amount of oil.

For example, a company highlighted in Nothing to Fear claims to achieve a yield of 91 gallons per ton of wood from pine trees. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough pine trees throughout the United States to replace the jet fuel used by the world’s airlines. And jet fuel represents only 6% of the oil used by the world.

There probably are a large number of biofuel companies that were initially started to develop biofuels to replace oil, but who have now found themselves in financial trouble.

These companies seem to have shifted their focus from producing biofuels to producing an alternative product, in some cases foodstuffs. Algenol, for example, is shifting to a “water treatment and carbon capture now, and maybe fuels later” strategy after replacing its CEO.

Each of the following companies seem to be shifting to foodstuffs:

  • Sapphire Energy
  • Solazyme
  • Heliae
  • Cellana

Interestingly, Celliana still apparently received funding from the Department of Energy (DOE) after making the switch to foodstuffs.

All the money being invested by the government comes from taxpayers, who could have used the money for items they deemed more important, or to increase their retirement savings.

These companies attempted to use feedstocks other than corn. Corn is a food, and it is a moral outrage to use food to produce ethanol to replace gasoline.

Biofuels are not a viable alternative to gasoline, diesel or jet fuel.

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From Chapter 10 of Nothing to Fear:

“The possibility of producing biofuels economically and in required quantities seems remote … if not absurd.”

Nothing to Fear is available from Amazon and some independent book sellers.

Link to Amazon: http://amzn.to/1miBhXy

 

Book Cover, Nothing to Fear
Book Cover, Nothing to Fear

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0 thoughts on “False Promise of Biofuels

  1. Pingback: Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #214 | Watts Up With That?

  2. It is criminal that the US government continues to squander tax payers hard earned dollars on this failed belief that cellulosic biofuels are a near term viable alternative to fossil fuels. One of the major issues is based on Government incentives to rush to commercialization before the technology has been fully developed and proven in small scale pilot plants including all issues resolved including metallurgical and mechanical hardware. It seem as though the rush to commercialization is based on meeting unrealistic mandates for inclusion of cellulosic ethanol in the fuel mix.
    In private non-subsidized industry, any company would have pulled the plug on such a failed concept. The government seems to be great at picking losers based on their track record.
    Also since when is it the government’s job to put viable tax paying private industries out of business such as they are doing using taxpayer dollars?

    • Thanks, and thanks for your comments. Good question. the answer is of course that they are putting good businesses out of business for ideological reasons … stopping global warming.

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