Today in Cleantech

The New York Times’s Matthew Wald is dubbing the arguments between the EPA and the auto industry over how much ethanol is safe to blend into gasoline “The Ethanol Wars.” The auto and oil industries are releasing a report today that says that engines fed with E15 (15 percent ethanol blended into standard gasoline) suffered damage. The EPA counters that the study is flawed and that its own tests of 86 vehicles over more than 6 million miles show that there is no discernable difference between fuels running on E15 and those on other blends. The cap on ethanol is a major problem for corn ethanol production, putting an effective cap on the addressable market for ethanol producers. It’s this very fact that drop in biofuels companies like Kior, Solazyme, Gevo, and Amyris point to as their major selling point. You can use as much as the stuff as you want. The auto industry is squarely against more ethanol, so much so that companies like Toyota have started printing big red “E15” lettering with a line through it on their fuel caps. Whatever the effective cap for ethanol, it’s becoming clear that ethanol isn’t much of a long term solution to the transportation fuel issue.

Biofuel maker ZeaChem lines up $232M loan award from USDA

The long-promised but perpetually fledging biofuel industry still remains a big focus of government support. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday that it has made a conditional commitment for a $232.5 million loan guarantee to biofuel maker ZeaChem.

LanzaTech raises $56M, targets Asia with biofuel tech

Asia, with its rapidly growing number of car owners and large pollution problems, could very well be the biggest market for biofuels and green chemicals one day. LanzaTech, which announced Monday it has raised $55.8 million, is certainly finding more willing customers and partners Asia.

Today in Cleantech

I’m guessing that if you polled self-described “green” advocates about their least favorite green technology, biofuels would be at the top of the list. Out of all the forms of renewable energy, biofuels are the most controversial from an environmental perspective, mainly because every drop now available to global markets comes from food crops like corn, sugarcane and soy. It would be nice if cellulosic biofuel — the stuff made from non-food plant materials — could step up and provide at least a fraction of the potential market. But that just hasn’t happened the way the industry and its government backers have hoped. In fact, commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol production is so far behind schedule in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency has had to slash its targets twice, from an original hope for 100 million gallons by 2010 and 250 million gallons by 2011 to a bare 12.9 million gallons by next year — and even that pathetically small figure will be a challenge for the industry to manage. Looks like we’ve got awhile to perfect cellulosic biofuel’s technology, and the business model, and the feedstock issues, and all the other problems that have limited its development to date.

Feds offer $105M loan guarantee for “Project Liberty” biofuel plant

Poet’s so-called “Project Liberty” biofuel plant, which will use corn waste instead of edible corn, is getting some support from the U.S. government. On Thursday, the Department of Energy announced it will offer Poet a $105 million loan guarantee to build out Project Liberty in Iowa.

A New Path For Waste Management: Trash-to-Chemicals

We already know of companies that want to turn garbage into transportation fuels. Now comes Genomatica, which announced Wednesday a technology development agreement with Waste Management to turn trash into chemical additives for markets beyond fuel.

Today in Cleantech

We’ve got some ambitious plans from Khosla-backed “renewable crude” startup KiOR to report on. This morning, the Houston-based company announced it has a term sheet for a Department of Energy loan guarantee of — wait for it — $1 billion-plus to help it build multiple plants to produce up to 250 million gallons of biofuel per year. A term sheet is just an opening salvo in the long process of landing a DOE loan guarantee, so we’re waiting to see what comes next. Still, it’s a huge amount to request — the last round of DOE biofuel loan guarantees added up to $571 million total for five separate companies, to give a point of comparison. KiOR’s approach to the biofuel challenge is quite different — instead of bypassing the traditional oil refining process with cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel or algae-based biofuel, the company says it can add a catalyst to improve on the well-known industrial process of pyrolysis — super-heating organic matter in the absence of oxygen — to yield a bio-crude product that can be dropped into existing oil refining infrastructure. That could cut out a lot of the headaches associated with brewing and transporting ethanol that can’t run through existing oil pipelines, or adding cold-sensitive biodiesel to truck fuel