Biofuels criss-cross: biodiesel from sugarcane

The feedstock boundaries in biofuels are generally well-defined - cereal crops and sugarcane are used to make ethanol, whereas oilseed crops like soy, rapeseed and palm oil are used to make biodiesel. Biotech start-up Amyris is breaking the rules, though, with its new large-scale demonstration plant in Brazil that will make biodiesel from sugarcane.

Geoff Styles has a very nice breakdown of the major advantages biodiesel from sugarcane: the natural photosynthetic benefits of using tropical sugarcane instead of temperate oilseed crops as feedstock, higher energy content (2x ethanol on a volume basis, and 20% higher per ton of sugarcane input), and a friendlier European import market compared to the highly subsidized and tariff-protected U.S. ethanol market. I'll add one more - despite the recent reversal due to the economic slowdown, the long-term future growth trajectory of diesel greatly surpasses that of gasoline, so as oil refiners hit the physical upper limits of the portion of each barrel of oil they can refine into diesel (rather than gasoline), diesel will regain a premium over gasoline - which will be great news for Amyris, if they can bring this production to commercial scale.

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