lost in the corn maze

Is the end near for the green biofuel dream?

The goal of turning corn stalks into auto fuel just lost a major champion as DowDuPont announced that it’s selling its flagship cellulosic ethanol plant, effectively abandoning efforts to master the fledgling technology.

Cellulosic ethanol is better than regular old ethanol because it uses less land. Regular ethanol is made from corn grain, while cellulosic comes from the inedible parts of the plant, allowing farmers to produce food and fuel in the same field.

But turning these corn cobs and husks into affordable fuel has proved difficult and expensive. And, after the merger between Dow and DuPont, the new company is looking to shed $3 billion in costs.

A year ago I reported on efforts to make cellulosic ethanol competitive, writing: “If anyone’s going to tough out the effort to make cellulosic ethanol, it’s DuPont, which has a long history of sinking years into research and development before bringing a profitable and transformative product to market.”

Oops.

Maybe regulators should take this as an object lesson when deciding whether to allow other agribusiness giants to merge, like the one pending between Monsanto and Bayer. The companies argue that Ginormous Merged Organizations (GMOs) can spur more innovation, but consolidation often means the opposite.