Wood-based biofuel creates fewer greenhouse gas emissions and requires less water to produce. Cellulose, the main component of wood, is also the most abundant polymer on Earth and unlike the starch and sugars found in corn and sugarcane, people cannot digest it. Production of wood-based ethanol fuel doesn't use food supplies for fuel and competition for agricultural land can be reduced.
"If you do a purely economic production cost comparison between wood and corn today, corn will be the lower cost option," says Stephen. "If we consider other factors, like energy security, the environmental impact and availability of resources, cellulosic ethanol becomes a more competitive option for Canada and the United States."
In Canada, wood waste, corn stover and wheat straw are being considered for wood-based ethanol production.
Stephen notes that 35 years ago Brazil made the decision to invest heavily in sugarcane-ethanol production. Today, Brazil's flex-fuel vehicles run on fuels of up to 100 per cent ethanol and government subsidies for the industry have nearly disappeared.
"Commercial production of wood-based ethanol requires government support to be economically viable," says Stephen. "There has been a lot of investment in the research and development of cellulosic ethanol, especially in the United States and Canada. Huge advancements have been made to reduce the cost of production but there is still a long way to go before the volumes produced by the corn ethanol industry are attainable."
|Contact: Heather Amos|
University of British Columbia