Cellulosic Biofuel Gets Better, But There’s A But

In the past, Tyner has maintained that in order for biofuels to be competitive, crude oil would have to be around $120 a barrel. H2Bioil, however, appears to do better. It takes the break-even point down near $100 – right around today’s price for oil. “We’re in the ballpark,” Tyner said.

There’s an ironic caveat to this type of green energy, however: That price competiveness only works if fossil fuels – natural gas or coal – are used to obtain the hydrogen that H2Bioil requires. Hydrogen derived from other sources, including nuclear, wind or solar, drives up the break-even point. You have to wonder if there’s any point to burning coal to make biofuel out of corn stalks or switchgrass.

biocorn

image via Shutterstok

Tyner did note that a carbon tax — a pipe dream for U.S. greens — would change the cost calculus, possibly bringing solar and wind into the picture down the road.

Meanwhile, the chemists still have some work to do. Their process works in the lab, but some tweaking will be necessary to take it to a larger stage.

“This economic analysis shows us that the process is viable on a commercial scale,” Agrawal said. “We can now go back to the lab and focus on refining and improving the process with confidence.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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