The Free Press, Mankato, MN


October 21, 2012

The new ethanol: A debate over corn, oil and progress



What the candidates don’t say is that the amount of ethanol already in production today is almost four times the amount of oil that the Bakken oilfields are currently producing.

“Today’s ethanol industry produces 3.8 times the cited production (in 2010) for Bakken shale oil. Today’s ethanol industry produces 1.67 times the volume that is slated to come in from Canada through the current Keystone Pipeline. . So ethanol is a big part of our existing fuel supply,” said Standlee. He’s referring to current ethanol capacity vs. the last full year of reliable Bakken production, and also the latest Keystone volume estimates.

Interviewed at company headquarters in the St. Louis suburb of Chesterfield, Standlee was optimistic about his company’s first commercial-scale U.S. cellulosic ethanol refinery being built in Hugoton, Kan. At $250 million, it is not a cheap investment.

When operational late next year, the Hugoton plant will be able to produce 25 million gallons of ethanol, derived from about 350,000 tons of biomass, in this case corn stover, although the plant is being built to accept other feedstocks.

Cellulosic ethanol refiners manufacture lab-created enzymes that break down starches into a fuel source. These enzymes can work with a wide range of plants and plant residue, including wood chips, sawdust and abundant inedible plants such as switch grass.

Chemical giant DuPont also has a commercial-scale cellulosic plant that’ll produce 28 million gallons annually in Nevada, Iowa.

“The technological risk, as far as we’re concerned, is gone. . We get the yield that we want, we get the cycle times that we want, we get the productivity that we want,” said James Collins, president of industrial biosciences for DuPont. “The technology is there, and that is not to be taken for granted; it took quite a few years.”

The time is now for next-generation ethanol, said Collins, and the challenge is locking in suppliers.

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