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VW, Shell and Iogen to Study Cellulosic Ethanol Production for Germany

Volkswagen, Shell and Iogen Corporation will conduct a joint study to assess the economic feasibility of producing cellulosic ethanol in Germany.

Iogen, a Canadian biotech company, uses recombinant DNA-produced enzymes to break apart cellulose in biomass such as wheat straw, sugar-cane bagasse and corn stovers to produce the sugars that are then fermented to make fuel ethanol. (Earlier post.)

We are strongly committed to reducing dependence on fossil fuels and are looking for the most effective approach to substitute these fuels by innovative biofuels. That is the only way we can cost effectively satisfy people’s individual mobility needs in the long term.

—Dr. Bernd Pischetsrieder, Chairman of the Board of Management of Volkswagen AG

Major investors in Iogen include Shell, Petro-Canada and the Government of Canada— Shell and Petro-Canada are supporting Iogen’s plans to build a commercial cellulosic ethanol plant in Canada. Shell is an equity investor in Iogen and has also taken a position in Biomass-to-Liquids manufacturer CHOREN Industries (earlier post).

All European and US automakers warrant the use of ethanol blends: 10% (E10) in North America and 5% (E5) in Europe. In 2003, the European Union issued a biofuel directive in response to anticipated shortages and rising costs of fossil fuels. The directive targets 5.75% biofuels by 2010. The US Energy Policy Act of 2005 introduced a nationwide renewable fuels standard (RFS) that will double the use of ethanol and biodiesel by 2012.



Enzymatic conversion of plant matter to ethanol yields about 48% of the energy.  Burning this in an engine at 20% efficiency yields a throughput of 9.6%.

Carbonizing the plant matter to charcoal also yields about 48% of the energy as charcoal (and the rest as heat and gas which can be used further).  The charcoal can be used in direct-carbon fuel cells at perhaps 80% efficiency, yielding 38.4% throughput - four times as good.

Ethanol should be a stopgap at most, regardless of what it's made from.


But won't cellulosic conversion at least leave nitrogen residue for fertilizer, cattle feed (vegemite for people)and stop a nasty waste disposal problem? The residue can also be used for textiles, as DuPont is doing from corn stover to make Sarona. And the Russians have been using lumber to make yeast for decades. I might at least sugggest integrating the residue to grow algae and other single cell protein, which may be the real key to the energy future.


Thanks for the pointer about direct carbon fuel cells; I hadn't heard about them before. Can they also utilize the (2H + O -> H2O) reaction, or is it coal oxidizing only? I mean, biomass and hydrocarbons contains lots of hydrogen, it would be a shame to waste that. Of course, a normal fuel cell does it the other way, by not utilizing the carbon. ;-)

But it sounds a bit troublesome to use charcoal for mobile applications. Instead of 'Fill er up' we'd have 'Shovel in as much as you can'. ;-)

Well seriously, it's probably some slurry, but still more expensive and complicated than a normal liquid fuel system. Which sort of brings me to my point. IIRC Fischer-Tropsch and also other processes can also produce about 50 % of the original energy as a diesel like fuel. Why couldn't you then use diesel fuel for the fuel cell, gaining the benefit of easier logistics that is compatible with current fuel distribution systems?

Harvey D

Yes, biocarbon (charcoal) may eventually be commercially produced from biomass using the flash carbonization process recently developed in Hawaii. A 48% conversion efficiency may be possible if all by-products are recuperated. However, the Direct biocarbon (charcoal) fuel cell (DCFC)development is a unique early research project and it is a bit premature to claim 80% cell efficiency, 40% to 50% may be more like it. Up-to-date gensets using cellulosic ethanol can also generate electricity with 40% to 50% efficiency. The throughput efficiency of both technology may be about the same, 19% to 24%.

Brent Erickson

Interesting that the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has been so supportive of cellulosic ethanol. NRDC issued a report recently entitled "Growing Energy" which focuses on cellulosic ethanol from switch grass. It is availbel at, then in left column click on industrial and environmental, and click on biofuels page to see PDF of full report. Among conclusions of report:
* By 2025, $5B/year in new revenue could be passed on to farmers and agricultural communities with the use of biofuels (200 million tons of biomass)
• Biofuels could reduce our greenhouse gas transportation-related emissions by more than 80%
• Biofuels could save us $20B per year on fuel costs by 2050
• An annual biomass supply of more than 1.3B dry tons can be accomplished with relatively modest changes in land use and agricultural and forestry practices
Brent Erickson

Medhat Eldenary

I am lecturer of genetics, faculty of agriculture at Tanta university- Egypt.
I am interested to ethanolProduction from cellulatic agricultural wastes.
I need technical help and traning in the fermintation method.
thank you

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