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Energy Cane ‘Could Yield Five Times More Ethanol than Corn’

CanergySo-called energy cane is part of a new generation of energy crops that could yield up to five times more ethanol per acre than corn, according to the journal Chemical & Engineering News.

Energy cane is a high-fiber variety of sugarcane now being grown in California’s Imperial Valley. Timothy R. Brummels, CEO of biofuels startup Canergy, expects 1 acre of cane to yield 1,800 to 2,200 gallons of ethanol per year, compared to about 400 gallons from 1 acre of corn.

Scientists bred it specifically as an “energy crop,” a genre that includes the giant reed Arundo donax, napier grass, switchgrass and hybrid poplar. Far beyond providing raw material for biobased fuels, these crops also have potential for supplying inexpensive, abundant, sustainable raw materials — feedstocks in chemical parlance — like ethylene and propylene. They become ingredients in hundreds of everyday products, ranging from smartphones and televisions to clothing, carpeting and batteries, according to C&EN.

The article explains how the biobased-fuels and chemicals industry envisions substituting energy crops for oil and natural gas, the traditional sources of such feedstocks. It describes how these efforts are taking on a new sense of urgency because abundant, less-expensive shale gas may make it difficult for biobased feedstocks to compete.

In May, the EPA proposed changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard program that include new renewable fuel pathways aimed at enhancing the ability of the biofuels industry to supply advanced biofuels, including cellulosic biofuels, to the market.

The EPA proposed that renewable diesel, renewable naphtha, and renewable electricity — used in electric vehicles — produced from landfill biogas be allowed to generate cellulosic or advanced biofuel Renewable Identification Numbers. RINs are serial numbers used to track the production use and trading of a batch of renewable energy. Under the proposals, renewable compressed natural gas/lique­fied natural gas produced from landfill biogas would also be allowed to generate cellulosic RINs.

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