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SAN DIEGO -- Pearson Fuels currently operates 11 ethanol stations in California, and with its recent infusion of $10.9 million in federal and state grants, the company will be expanding by an additional 55 stations around the state, according to a report in The San Diego Business Journal.
"I guess my reaction was I felt a sense of validation to what we've been doing all these years," Mike Lewis, general manager of the company, said in the report. "We built the first E85 [station] on the West Coast in 2003. And it was the only E85 pump in California for four years."
California is under pressure by the federal government to increase its output of renewable fuels, and a new federal mandate requires 36 billion gallons of fuel sold in the United States be from renewable sources by 2022 -- and the state's share is expected to be 20 percent, the report stated.
"We expect the lion's share to be ethanol, whether it's sugar cane, cellulose or other renewable sources," said Gordon Schremp with the California Energy Commission, which awarded Pearson $4 million of the $10.9 million. The remaining $6.9 million was awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy, through its Clean Cities program, the report stated.
Next year, the state will increase its ethanol mixture in gasoline from 7 percent to 10 percent, which will boost ethanol output to 1.5 billion gallons a year.
"That will help meet our fair share obligations. It's more than we need to do," he said in the report. "But by 2012 or 2013, that volume of ethanol won't be enough to meet the total fair share commitment from the federal mandate."
The Pearson stations are essentially a single Pearson-branded ethanol pump and underground storage tank at existing gas stations, and the fuel is E85 -- 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline -- and can be used by modern flex-fuel cars, which run on either gasoline or E85, the report stated.
The coming innovation of ethanol production will not be from food, but biowaste, Lewis said in the report. He reached out to a company that's close to commercializing "cellulosic ethanol" from corn stovers, which are the leftover leaves and stalks after harvest. AE Biofuels of Cupertino partnered with Pearson on its grant application.
"You hear about making ethanol out of something other than corn -- almost none of that is really happening in the real world. We feel these guys are further along than anyone," Lewis said in the report. "Our intention is to bring in non-corn ethanol by the end of next year."
Andy Foster, AE Biofuels president and COO of the biofuels division, said the company demonstrated the cellulosic ethanol production at its Butte, Mont., facility and is in talks with several California plants to license the process.
It uses an enzyme cocktail to ferment the biomass into a usable ethanol, and Pearson Fuels would be the first commercial deployment of cellulosic ethanol, Lewis said.