Once expected to surpass corn ethanol as the country’s main biofuel, cellulosic ethanol, which is made mainly from the fibrous structure of plants, has been hit hard by technical problems, high costs and bad timing. But 2014 is shaping up to be a big year for cellulosic ethanol, and the Midwest is at the epicenter of activity related to the fuel.
Abengoa Bioenergy, the Kansas-based subsidiary of a Spanish company, will open its first commercial-sized cellulosic ethanol plant in January. The plant’s price tag is said to be around a half billion dollars. Three plants are expected to open in Iowa next year. In St. Joseph, ICM, a provider of equipment to corn ethanol plants, has been experimenting with cellulosic ethanol production.
But even if the new facilities are successful, other factors could undermine cellulosic ethanol. Despite the Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of gasoline with up to 15 percent ethanol, gas stations have been slow to adopt the fuel. And a federal mandate to use more biofuels has come under fire from oil industry lobbyists, jeopardizing funding for cellulosic plants.