Ceres's Rath is optimistic about the outlook for dedicated energy crops but adds that growers will ultimately make the decision about what to plant. With corn and soybean prices as high as they are now, energy crop production will unlikely start in the Corn Belt. However, because dedicated energy crops require fewer inputs than conventional row crops, growers might want to focus on net income rather than just revenue.

The cellulosic ethanol industry is ramping up. One company has produced cellulosic ethanol since 2004, and more than 20 companies are constructing or operating biorefineries to gather further data needed to increase commercial production, says Brent Erickson, executive vice president, Industrial & Environmental Section, Biotechnology Industry Organization.

“The sky's the limit,” Rath says. “If we want to make a significant dent in reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, dedicated energy crops are the way to do it.”