The Environmental and Energy Study Institute held a briefing update on the research, demonstration, deployment and commercialization of cellulosic ethanol. This was an opportunity to hear first-hand from companies involved in this emerging industry. The importance of cellulosic ethanol to the future of the United States has been hailed by many policymakers from across the country, including the President. Cellulosic ethanol can be produced from a highly diverse array of feedstocks, allowing every region of the country to be a potential producer of this fuel. (Cellulose is found in all plant/organic matter.) Therefore, production of cellulosic ethanol is viewed as a resource that can improve national energy security, the environment and greenhouse gas mitigation, and rural economic development. As a result, support for cellulosic ethanol has brought together a broad array of constituents including environmentalists, farmers, national security experts, industry, and religious leaders.
Increased interest in this emerging industry has been driven by the volatility of oil prices, imports of oil increasing to about 60% of US consumption, and recognition of the vulnerability of a transport sector 97% dependent upon oil, with 2/3 of global oil reserves residing in the Middle East . Furthermore, mounting concerns over the need to address climate change have helped focus attention on cellulosic ethanol.
Research and public-private partnerships have played an important role in moving technology development forward. There are now major international competitiveness issues involved, as governments around the world are investing to spur the commercialization and deployment of various cellulosic ethanol technologies. It appears that the race is on.