Cellulosic ethanol is the next step in making a definitive replacement for foreign oil. The reality is becoming ever closer, now in large part due to Range Fuels. The State of Georgia has just awarded them a permit to build the first plant to employ their patented technology to produce 100 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year.
Part of the apparent brilliance to the K2 process, as it is called, is that it is a modular design, meaning the processing equipment can be scaled to the need and location, and doesn't necessarily require a monstrous factory. Theoretically, a biomass supplier could cut transportation expenses by sending their material directly into an on-site processor, making the whole thing much more efficient. The K2 process eliminates expensive enzymes by using a two-step thermo-chemical conversion, first converting the biomass into a synthesis gas, and then processing the gas into ethanol.
This new technology and first of many plants employing it is beneficial for two main reasons. We've already covered the lessened dependency on foreign oil. It also means that with the alleged simplicity and adaptability of this processing method, we could see a boom in the number of ethanol plants across the country, thereby producing much more supply of ethanol, lessening demand, and lowering the price to something far more competitive to gasoline. That would then make the decreased efficiency of ethanol-burning engines more tolerable. Of course, as that technology advances as well, fuel efficiency could soon be on par with its oil-based competition.