Soon after hearing about Big Oil’s numerous challenges to the Renewable Fuel Standard, attendees of the Fuel Ethanol Workshop this summer, heard from producers forging ahead to commercialize cellulosic ethanol. The placement of these sessions was apropos as challenges to the RFS are heating up in almost direct proportion to the progress of cellulosic ethanol plant construction.

“The single most important reason why the oil industry is fighting the RFS is that it is seeing cellulosic ethanol on the cusp of commercialization,” Bob Dinneen, president and CEO, Renewable Fuels Association, told the audience. The oil industry has already lost 10% of the barrel to ethanol, and could lose 30% of the market to cellulosic ethanol and other advanced biofuels in the not-too-distant future, he adds.

Technological advances have enabled cellulosic ethanol to be made from many feedstocks, such as corn stover and cobs; wheat straw; sorghum; grasses like switchgrass and miscanthus; woody biomass; municipal solid waste; and more. “This broadens the strength and depth of our industry,” says Brian Jennings, executive vice president, American Coalition for Ethanol.

As the cellulosic ethanol industry goes deep, so will its impact on Capitol Hill. More states outside the traditional corn ethanol belt will be able to participate in converting feedstocks to biofuels as well as for electrical generation. This will likely translate into more political clout and votes for renewable energy policies, says Tom Buis, CEO, Growth Energy. Even within the Corn Belt, there will be new opportunities.