Should we be picking the winning alternative energy feedstocks right now? Emerson’s Douglas Morris explores this question in today’s guest post.
I’d like to start this blog post with a question: When you hear the term biofuels, what typically comes to mind? Chances are, like most things, your answer depends on your personal frame of reference. If you’re located in an agricultural area, you may answer corn ethanol; others may answer biodiesel; still others may be thinking about algae. But what about the person who answers “Drop in diesel derived from Municipal Solid Waste?” Haven’t heard of that one? That’s my point. There is no “one” advanced biofuels solution right now and, quite frankly, there won’t be for the foreseeable future. Some may want to crown a “winning technology” right now, but that would stifle the efforts of the many talented entrepreneurs in the market today, each with different ideas on how to take a vast array of bio feed stocks and turn them into some type of fuel. I posted this chart recently. There are so many opportunities given the number of conversion pathways.
As it stands, the advanced biofuels industry cannot produce fuels at the same price as conventional fossil sources. Things like scale, infrastructure, and technology refinement are just not there yet. In terms of the learning curve, the industry has a long way to go. But in order to get to the stated goal of diversifying fuel supplies, it’s important to put in place a legislative culture that both encourages and rewards innovation. A flexible legislative environment that promotes investment (and risk taking) in advanced biofuels will allow these entrepreneurs the opportunity to take a breakthrough idea from blackboard to production. In order for this to happen, the legislative process needs to remain neutral and resist the temptation of choosing feedstock and pathway winners and losers.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and their effort to collect and fund ideas that can be commercialized to produce drop in fuels for the military. I had the opportunity last week to participate in a conference call with many advanced biofuels companies and the DOD and this effort was discussed. Kudos to the DOD in that they are very open to any and all technologies, to the point where they are willing to change their original Request for Information if its proposal mistakenly excluded some ideas. What a pleasant surprise! Let’s hope this approach continues for the foreseeable future as government programs are developed for advanced biofuels.