Cellulosic Biofuels’ Economic and Technological Challenges: Speed Bumps or Detours?

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ACS Science & the Congress Project
Honorary Co-Hosts:
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK)


Ethanol produced from biomass (a biofuel) has been hailed as an alternative energy source to offset reliance on foreign oil. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) issued a new renewable fuel standard (RFS2) that mandated renewable fuel consumption to increase incrementally from 2010 – 2022 across feedstocks (e.g. food crops such as corn, sugarcane), cellulosics (plants’ hardier non-food materials such as corn stover, starchy grasses, and forest litter including wood), and algae. While grain bioethanol is tracking to meet or exceed its quota, a lack of supply has had the 2011 and 2012 cellulosic targets reduced to less than 3% of the previous requirements. Some analysts suggest that meeting RFS2’s cellulosic quotas will require either a significant increase in the price of oil and/or extensive subsidies to make such biofuel competitive with conventional gasoline. Other industry watchers argue RFS2’s goals are a matter of opening more manufacturing sites and building an infrastructure and consumer base to create demand that drives production volumes. This panel will discuss the interrelated economics and technological challenges confronting biofuels to inform on moving forward with RFS2.

Video Presentations from January 30, 2012


Speaker Bios & Presentations

William Provine, Ph.D. is currently the Science Director of the Biochemical Science and Engineering – BioFuels division of Central Research and Development at DuPont. In his current role, Dr. Provine has global responsibility for biofuels research programs within DuPont including the biobutanol and cellulosic ethanol development efforts, and overseeing key elements of corporate research for DuPont. Dr. Provine also is a board member for Butamax Advanced Biofuels LLC – DuPont’s joint venture with BP. External to DuPont, Dr. Provine serves on a number of advisory boards and committees including advisory boards for Joint BioEnergy Institute, Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, BioEnergy Science Center, World Council on Industrial Biotechnology, as well as the Biomass R&D Technical Advisory Committee to the U.S. DOE/USDA. He joined DuPont in 1992 and has served in a variety of research, marketing, business development, and operations leadership roles including oversight for commercialization efforts in DuPont BioFuels. Dr. Provine also has managed key strategic collaborations around the world for DuPont in emerging technologies such as nanotechnology, biomaterials, and biofuels with companies, universities, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. Dr. Provine graduated from the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Delaware, where he received B.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Chemical Engineering in 1987 and 1992.

Wallace E. Tyner, Ph.D. is an energy economist and James and Lois Ackerman Professor of Agricultural Economics, Purdue University. He received his B.S. degree in chemistry (1966) from Texas Christian University, and his M.A. (1972) and Ph.D. (1977) degrees in economics from the University of Maryland. Dr. Tyner’s research interests address energy, agriculture, and natural resource policy analysis and structural and sectoral adjustment in developing economies. He has over 250 papers including three books and over 90 journal papers, published abstracts, and book chapters. Dr. Tyner’s past work in energy economics has encompassed petroleum, biomass, agricultural ethanol, and solar energy, whilehe currently focuses on renewable energy policy and climate change. Teaching a graduate course in benefit-cost analysis, In his students have received the department’s outstanding thesis award in five of the past seven years. In June 2007, Senator Richard G. Lugar (R-IN) named Dr. Tyner an “Energy Patriot” for his work on energy policy analysis. In 2009 he received the Purdue College of Agriculture Outstanding Graduate Educator award and was in a group that received the College Team award for multidisciplinary research on biofuels. In 2011, he served as Co-chair of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Economic and Environmental Impacts of Biofuels.

Doug Karlen, Ph.D. is a Supervisory Soil Scientist with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) at the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment (NLAE) in Ames, IA, currently as Research Leader for the Soil, Water, and Air Resources Research Unit at the NLAE. He also serves as co-leader for the ARS Renewable Energy Assessment Project (REAP) team, and as coordinator for a REAP Regional Partnership. Additionally, Dr. Karlen served on a National Academy of Sciences Panel associated with the America’s Energy Future project. A native of Wisconsin, his B.S., M.S. and PhD. degrees are from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, Michigan State University, and Kansas State University, respectively. Dr. Karlen is author or co-author for 186 refereed journal articles and more than 125 refereed proceedings, book chapters, and non-technical publications. He is a Fellow of the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science Society of America and Soil and Water Conservation Society. Dr. Karlen currently serves as Secretary General for the International Soil and Tillage Research Organization (ISTRO) and is an adjunct faculty member in the Agronomy Department at Iowa State University and in the Soil, Crop, and Entomology Department at Clemson University.

Virginia H. Dale, Ph.D. is a Corporate Fellow in the Environmental Sciences Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and was selected as the 2006 Distinguished Scientist for the Laboratory. She is Director of ORNL’s Center for Bioenergy Sustainability. Dr. Dale is also an adjunct professor at the University of Tennessee in the departments of Forestry, Wildlife, and Fisheries and also Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. She obtained her Ph.D. in mathematical ecology from the University of Washington. Dr. Dale’s primary research interests are environmental decision making, forest succession, land-use change, landscape ecology, ecological modeling, and sustainability of bioenergy systems. She has authored more than 190 published articles, is coauthor of the books Road Ecology and Hypoxia in the Northern Gulf of Mexico, and has edited five books. Dr. Dale has served on national scientific advisory boards for five federal agencies (the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, and Interior), recently: chaired the EPA Science Advisory Board’s Hypoxia Advisory Panel; also served on the U.S. National Research Council Committee of the Economic and Environmental Impacts of Increasing Biofuel Production. Dr. Dale is also Editor-in-Chief of the journal Environmental Management.

Aristides A.N. Patrinos, Ph.D. is Senior Vice President for Corporate Affairs at Synthetic Genomics, Inc. (SGI), a privately held company founded in 2005. Prior to joining SGI, Dr. Patrinos served as associate director of the Office of Biological and Environmental Research in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. Dr. Patrinos played a historic role in the Human Genome Project, the founding of the DOE Joint Genome Institute and the design and also launch of the DOE’s Genomes to Life Program to develop microbial technologies for energy and environmental challenges. He also launched and led the DOE’s component of the U.S. Global Change Research Program. Dr. Patrinos has served on several National Academy of Science committees. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the American Meteorological Society, and members of the American Geophysical Union, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Greek Technical Society. Dr. Patrinos has received numerous awards, including three Presidential Rank Awards, two Secretary of Energy Gold Medals, and honorary doctorates from the National Technical University of Athens and the Hellenic American University. He received an undergraduate degree from the National Technical University of Athens, and a Ph.D. from Northwestern University.

Related Information

National Academies

Department of Energy

Soil and Water Conservation Society

Congressional Research Service

Publications of the American Chemical Society

Chemical & Engineering News (free access to below)
Journal Publications of the ACS (free where indicated)
  • Virtual Issue on Biofuels, drawing published content 2009 – 2010 from Energy & Fuels, Environmental Science & Technology, and Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry; http://pubs.acs.org/page/vi/2010/biofuels.html.
  • Liquid Biofuels: Fluid Properties to Optimize Feedstock Selection, Processing, Refining/Blending, Storage/Transportation, and Combustion, by Anitescu, G.; Bruno, T.J. Energy Fuels 2012 26 (1), 324-348; http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/ef201392s (free online).
  • Grand Challenges for Life-Cycle Assessment of Biofuels, by McKone, T.E.; Nazaroff, W.W.; Berck, P.; Auffhammer, M.; Lipman, T.; Torn, M.S.; Masanet, E.; Lobscheid, A.; Santero, N.; Mishra, U.; Barrett, A.; Bomberg, M.; Fingerman, K.; Scown, C.; Strogen, B.; Horvath, A. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2011, 45 (5), 1751-1756; http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/es103579c (free online).
  • Facts, Growth, and Opportunities in Industrial Biotechnology, by Singh, R. Org. Process Res. Dev. 2011, 15 (1) , 175-179; http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/op100312a
  • Environmental and Sustainability Factors Associated With Next-Generation Biofuels in the U.S.: What Do We Really Know?, by Williams, P.R.D; Inman, D.; Aden, A.; Heath, G.A. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2009, 43 (13), 4763-4775; http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/es900250d
  • Agricultural Chemistry and Bioenergy, by Orts, W.J.; Holtman, K.M.; Seiber, J.N. J. Agric. Food Chem. 2008, 56 (11), 3892-3899; http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/jf8006695