HomeAbout the CoalitionMedia/Research CenterClean Fuels InformationRenewable Fuels StandardCurrent EventsPublicationsClean Fuels Blog

Stay Connected

Get updates by email:

Enter your email address:

Add to Technorati Favorites


Autos Blogs - Blog Catalog Blog Directory

« General Motors Bets on Cellulosic Ethanol Model | Main | Ethanol’s Economic Stimulus Package: Show US the money! »

January 22, 2008

Corn Vs. Cellulose: And The Winner Is?

Ethanol: Fact vs. Myth

Learn the truth about ethanol...


Critics that attack corn-based ethanol in favor of cellulosic ethanol need to develop a better understanding of how corn-based ethanol and cellulosic ethanol go hand-in-hand into the winner's circle. Corn-based ethanol has paved the way for the accelerated development of cellulosic ethanol.  Ethanol has had to overcome several marketplace hurdles and had to develop the legislative support infrastructure, which if it were not in place, would create a much longer and riskier bridge to the commercialization of cellulosic ethanol. For example, corn-based ethanol has: 

  1. Established automaker acceptance of gasoline/ethanol blends and alternative fuel vehicle production (i.e., FFVs and E85).
  2. Created a competitive fuel market for the first time in 100 years of gasoline dominance. Corn-based ethanol also helped establish laws to prevent major oil companies from stopping their distributors from selling ethanol.
  3. Helped our government leaders understand that federal and state legislative support is necessary to make it profitable and possible to sell ethanol.
  4. Paved the way to get government funding and support for cellulosic conversion technology.
  5. Has improved and proven the fermentation and drying processes that will be used by cellulosic ethanol plants.
  6. Paved the way to for the expansion of nation’s renewable fuel standard and requirements for cellulosic conversion technology in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.
  7. Paved the way to for the expansion of state renewable fuel standard (e.g., MN) and requirements for federal RFS requirements.
  8. It is also paving the road for the cellulose feedstock collection and process which will likely first happen around large and established scale corn-based ethanol plants.
  9. Created the next likely line up of licensers for the new cellulosic technologies being developed today.
  10. Paved the way for the acceptance of the use by Indy race cars which can prove ethanol’s performance and lead to more acceptance by the public.
  11. Corn ethanol is a small part of corn growing strategy and markets – but makes it profitable to growers, saves government payments to farmers, and keeps food production acres and farmers in business.

The excitement over cellulosic ethanol is still about the success and potential of ethanol, which in any other form of production, is still ethanol.

If we choose to throw out corn-based ethanol in favor of cellulosic ethanol, what are our alternatives?

  1. Close down the $20 billion in economic activity currently being generated by corn-ethanol plants.
  2. Return to using more carcinogenic gasoline?
  3. Return to using more crude oil imports from unstable countries that hate us?
  4. Don’t use ethanol and accelerate the supply/demand imbalance for crude oil, and increase gasoline prices?
  5. Let farmers go back to relying on federal payments and force them to sell their land to corporate farms and accelerate urban sprawl?
  6. Cut government programs by $6 billion so we can get back to business of paying farmers not to grow crops?

What was done.

The recent Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 addresses many concerns about corn by limiting its use and sets extra market based rewards for ethanol made from cellulose that can prove it uses less energy when compared to gasoline.

We did it.

The democratic process created new performance metrics for ethanol feedstocks based on public and scientific concerns.  Entrepreneurs, universities, the federal government, and even General Motors are now taking financial risks to accelerate the cellulosic development process to reap the rewards of cleaner burning and cheaper transportation fuels.  Congress has also protected the nation's $20 billion corn-based infrastructure that will soon prove to be an integral part of the success and rapid growth of cellulosic ethanol.

What I think we should we do next?

Corn-based ethanol brought cellulosic technology to the alternative fuels dance and we should all be doing the two step – first step ethanol, second step cellulose. Cellulosic ethanol will answer many of the concerns of critics over ethanol's ability to significantly and sustainably become an important component of our nation's energy strategy.  We should all move forward with enthusiasm for corn-based ethanol, improvements in the process technology, the improved methods of growing of corn and other energy crops, and continue to develop cellulosic ethanol.  Throwing out the corn-based ethanol before it reaches its full potential (e.g., cellulosic) is like turning off the old black and white TV before seeing HDTV. So stay tuned in to see more developments in ethanol and ethanol feedstocks.

What do you think we should do next?

We look forward to your comments and insights.

Burl Haigwood
Director of Program Development


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Corn Vs. Cellulose: And The Winner Is?:



Corn ethanol has also helped to develop the distribution infrastructure. Corn ethanol and especially the recent low price of ethanol has spurred the development of blending terminals that will be needed to distribute the future larger volumes of cellulosic ethanol.

Great White 2002 Chevy Tahoe FFV

Hi. I have an impartial blog tracking my experience with E85 here in Denver. So far, it has been very positive. I simply wanted to share http://e85test.blogspot.com/

Kum Dollison

Get a "check-off" program going. The industry is getting killed in the MSM. Hire some people that know how to "play the game."

Get the Truth out about EROEI in modern, state of the art plants. Explain how that translates out when 3 out of 4 cars tested by the Univ of N. Dakota, and Mn State achieved higher "mileage" on an ethanol blend than they did with straight gasoline.

Hint: Why base return on energy invested on 76,000 btu's when in a properly tuned car it can replace 116,000 btus of gasoline.

We need to see a "Headline" about how the government of Brazil has fined some ethanol companies down there for using "Slave Labor." The Tariffs HAVE TO Stay in Place.

Or, since the word "Tariff" is such a Loaded word, encourage the END of the Ethanol Tariff, BUT, remove it's eligibility for Blender's Credits.

I could "go on" for awhile; but, I'll stop now, and give someone else a chance to talk.

Thanks for what you do.



Hi Burl,

Glad to see a forum for discussion of ethanol in a positive light.
I think part of the problem in the mainstream media light is ethanol has been identified as a competitor for food in the marketplace , when in fact it is helping to contribute to the foodchain. They show corn entering the ethanol plant, but most people don't know what happens to DDGs after they leave the ethanol plant, and I haven't seen where this gets nearly enough attention in the media.
There isn't enough time to explain the whole ethanol production process in the 30 second time span most media outlets provide. I don't even see it mentioned in 20/20 or "60 minutes" segments. Without a unified voice to call attention to these issues, or the emergence of a nationwide brand, there isn't much for folks to "grab ahold of" when they look for a good unbiased universal view of what makes the industry tick.
We are going to see more of this bashing of the industry from mainstream media as food prices continue to climb. But I think back to what I saw while traveling to Minneapolis through the cornbelt in southern Minnesota. Farmers hauling corn to market in what ever conveyance they had at hand. Rural communities vibrant and bustling, where 10 years earlier , they were nearly deserted. There is still a fair amount of work ahead to get to the point where hi blend ethanol can be available at any street corner, but considering the industry is being built from the ground up , I think it's been going remarkably well. We also need to address the fuel economy issue of FFVs, but I'll leave that for later..
I yield back ....

Farmer Jay

Is more ethanol produced from corn or from suger cain? Well it depends how you count. It is well known that from each bushel of corn at least 2.8 gal of ethanol and 18 lbs of distillers grain will be produced. But what is not said is from every 3 bushels of corn 8.4 gallons of ethanol and 1 bushel of feed is produced. Fact: (More then half of all corn is used for feed.) Therefore for every bushel of corn lost to feed 4.2 gallons of ethanol is created. Or on the farm, every acre of corn lost to feed will produce 820 gallons of ethanol. (200 bushel of corn per acre.) Where as every acer of suger cain lost to suger will only produce 600 to 700 gallons of ethanol. Makeing corn more productive then suger cain in the production of ethanol.

Kum Dollison

Let's kick off a drive to end the Blenders Credit on "Imported" ethanol. There's no reason in the world why "I" should be subsidizing the Socialist, slave labor-using Brazilian ethanol industry.

THEN, we can drop the "Tariffs" that evoke such a visceral reaction from those that don't understand the program in it's entirety.


Pick whatever magical liquid conversion process you want.

Where is the biomass feedstock going to come from?

Bibb Swain

Both feedstocks will be winners in the future. The plain fact is that cellulosic ethanol simply can't compete with $2.00 corn without a major breakthru in technology. Because of the extensive logistics required by cellulosic feedstocks, I doubt it ever will. However, several cellulosic technologies available today CAN compete with $4.00 corn. I expect cellulosic ethanol to serve as both a cap and floor on corn prices, other than the short-term swings that occur in every commodity market. If corn prices get too high, we swing production away from corn toward cellulose because it will be more profitable, resulting in a drop in corn prices. The opposite occurs if corn prices drop too low. Imagine the disasterous world-wide crash in corn prices if a new technology or government action suddenly made corn-based ethanol infeasible. Most corn producers wouldn't be able to pay their fertilizer bill. Bottom Line - I am very confident the corn-based ethanol plants being built today will never be forced out of business due to cheap cellulosic ethanol.

The comments to this entry are closed.