New report exposes worldwide failure of cellulosic biofuels

Biofuelwatch press release about launch of cellulosic biofuels report

17th September 2018 – A report [1] published by Biofuelwatch [2] today busts the myths around the supposed ‘promises’ of cellulosic biofuels, tracking the history and recent commercial failures of different technologies developed to turn to wood, grasses, agricultural residues and waste from biomass into transport fuels. It concludes that commercial success remains elusive more than a century after the first cellulosic ethanol refineries opened.

Almuth Ernsting, co-author of the report, states: “False promises about cellulosic biofuels made from wastes and residues continue to be used by industry and policymakers to keep biofuel subsidies and targets in place, even though 99% of biofuels worldwide are ‘first generation’ ones made mainly from cereals, sugar crops, and vegetable oils such as palm oil. Cellulosic biofuel myths perpetuate support for existing biofuels which require vast areas of land for very little energy.”

The report looks in detail at each of the 11 commercial-scale cellulosic biofuel facilities officially commissioned or ‘operating’ since 2010, most of which have since closed down and none of which has been a commercial success. Failures include Europe’s only commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant, built by a subsidiary of Mossi Ghisolfi Group in Italy, which was beset with technical problems and attracted numerous complaints over environmental pollution before closing down. Other failures include plants built by Abengoa and DuPont, shut down after lengthy failed attempts to make them operational. Even the most ‘successful’ plant, operated by a Shell-COSAN consortium in Brazil, continues to be beset with technical problems and is producing ethanol well below its capacity

Rachel Smolker, also a co-author, states: “If cellulosic biofuels were to ever ‘work’, forests worldwide would face a new threat of being turned into fuel for cars and planes. As it stands, billions of dollars that should have supported meaningful responses to climate change have instead been wasted entirely on such unsuccessful technologies.”

The report warns that, although no commercial cellulosic biofuel production has been anywhere near successful, genetic engineering of microorganisms for cellulosic ethanol production has proliferated, despite serious but poorly understood risks of negative environmental and public health impacts. Cellulosic ethanol production has also helped biotech companies to attract more funding for genetically engineered trees, which pose severe dangers to forest ecosystems.



Almuth Ernsting, Tel: +44-(0)131-6232600 (UK)

Rachel Smolker, Tel: ++1-(0)802-482 – 2848 (USA)


[1] The report “Dead End Road: The False Promises of Cellulosic Biofuels” can be downloaded at

[2] Biofuelwatch is a non-profit organisation based in the UK and US which carries out research, education, advocacy and campaigning in relation to the impacts of large-scale bioenergy.