Fuel ethanol in the US is most widely used as an E10 gasoline blend (10% ethanol) and the supply chain from existing corn ethanol plants, currently outstrips demand. This “blend wall” is a disincentive to research and investment in ethanol production.
The State of Iowa gives cause for optimism, following the reported retail triumph of corn-based E85 (85%) blend. Iowa’s Renewable Fuels Association report that in the first quarter of 2011, despite a reduction in retail tax credit for E85, higher oil prices have helped sales to exceed 2.6 million gallons (a 27% increase on the previous year).
It seems that in the US, corn ethanol production is capable of overcoming the blend wall. Meanwhile, Finland have pioneered a more sustainable solution, with plants producing E85 from side streams of food industry waste. At less cost to the environment, industrial production of ethanol from lignocellulosic biomass remains out of reach to short-term profiteers. The past month’s publications in Biotechnology for Biofuels include diverse studies that crack open the practical barriers presented by the plant cell wall, including treatments of corn stover, wheat straw and willow coppice to increase the yield of fermentable sugars.