The U.S. cellulosic biofuels industry: Expert views on commercialization drivers and barriers

Min Chen, Paul M. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


The continued growth of U.S. first generation biofuels, mostly corn-grain ethanol, is facing increased pressure from the “food-vs.-fuel” and ethanol “blend wall” debates. Second generation (cellulosic) biofuels avoid the uncertainties about impact on food security and land competition, but have yet to become widely commercialized. No previous studies were found quantifying the relative importance of factors driving or constraining the commercialization of the U.S. cellulosic biofuels industry. Respondents to this study's online and paper-based surveys, administered between July and November, 2015, included 228 experts throughout the biorefinery supply chain from seven USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Coordinated Agricultural Projects (CAPs) and two industrial conferences. Government policies were rated as the most important driver for the commercialization of cellulosic biofuels. The second most importance driver was added value from non-fuel co-products, followed by carbon emission reduction and volatile oil prices. High production costs, policy uncertainty, and competition vs. petro-fuels were identified as the top three barriers to the commercialization of cellulosic biofuels. This paper also identified significant differences in the rating of drivers and barriers among four self-described expert groups (Feedstock, Processing, Economic/Business, and Sustainability), thus underscoring the importance of examining issues from multiple perspectives and highlighting the value of the USDA NIFA CAPs. Finally, participants were significantly more optimistic about the success of the integrated production of both cellulosic biofuels and biochemicals by the year 2020 vs. cellulosic biofuels alone (at the p = 0.001 level), underscoring the perceived advantages of the integrated biorefinery model.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)52-61
Number of pages10
JournalBiomass and Bioenergy
StatePublished - 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Forestry
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Waste Management and Disposal


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