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To Survive, Some Biofuels Companies Give Up on Biofuels

• Kevin Bullis via TechnologyReview.com

Gevo, a prominent advanced-biofuels company that has received millions in U.S. government funding to develop fuels made from cellulosic sources such as grass and wood chips, is finding that it can't use these materials if it hopes to survive. Instead, it's going to use corn, a common source for conventional biofuels. What's more, most of the product from its first facility will be used for chemicals rather than fuel.

As the difficulty of producing cellulosic biofuels cheaply becomes apparent, a growing number of advanced-biofuels companies are finding it necessary to take creative approaches to their business, even though that means abandoning some of their green credentials, at least temporarily, and focusing on markets that won't have a major impact on oil imports. This is hardly the outcome the government hoped for when it announced cellulosic-biofuels mandates, R&D funding, and other incentives in recent years.

Cellulosic biofuels still cost much more to produce than either corn ethanol or gasoline. One reason is that startups have had trouble raising enough money to build the large-scale commercial plants needed to lower costs. That's in part because their technology is unproven, and in part because there's no guaranteed market for cellulosic biofuels yet.

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