The cellulosic ethanol initiative holds a great deal of environmental promise, as it can reduce emissions by up to 86% compared to regular gasoline. In fact, Project Liberty is only the first of three separate, major cellulosic ethanol projects in the U.S. planned for 2014. Industry giant Dupont is even scheduled to enter the fray with a new plant expected to produce 30 million gallons per year. While supporters of biomass-based ethanol hail Project Liberty as a triumph, numerous obstacles stand in the way of cellulosic ethanol’s success.
For one, a great deal of expense has gone into the development of new technologies needed to derive ethanol from the collected waste and other materials. Another problem is that the gasoline pumped by consumers only contains up to 10% ethanol, which means that there is a finite, and potentially small amount of cellulosic ethanol that can actually be sold and used on the U.S. market.
Yet another issue concerns the value of the corn stover (the term applied to the stalks and leaves left over after a harvest) to farmers and their land. A study showed that the removal of all of the stover after a harvest can actually be destructive to the soil, decreasing a farmer’s ability to grow corn there. Therefore, harvesters of biomass are limited to removing only about 25% of the stover and storing it, not to mention that special baling equipment must be used to accomplish this, meaning many farmers are unwilling to take on the risks of the whole process.