Being a biofuel company hasn't been much fun lately.
What with low prices for the fuels and high prices for the crops used to make them, margins have shrunk.
But the news isn't all bad for biofuel companies. After all, the House on Thursday passed an energy bill that called for 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022. (OK, the Senate shot that bill down Friday morning, but it's still got a chance.) And Mascoma said it will break ground Monday on its cellulosic plant, even if it is a year late.
Here are a few other pieces of recent news that show a little bit of silver lining for the industry:
Another Plant Suspended
Let's face it. When an investment company owned by Microsoft chairman Bill Gates says it's going to sell off a 21-percent stake in a company, it hurts.
And Monday, Pacific Ethanol felt more pain when the company told investors it was suspending the construction of an ethanol plant in Southern California until market conditions improve.
Pacific Ethanol isn't the only ethanol producer taking such hits. Many ethanol makers are feeling the impact of rising corn prices and falling ethanol prices (see Ethanol's Tough Times Continue) and other companies, including VeraSun, have postponed plans to build ethanol refineries (see Ethanol Margins Suffer).
Pacific Ethanol's CEO, Neil Koehler, wanted investors to know the company is still moving forward with its Stockton, Calif.-based and Burley, Idaho, ethanol plants, which remain under construction.
Still, investors sent the company's stock down 12 cents, or 1.96 percent, to close at $5.99 per share.
The news came on the heels of a not-so-hot third quarter for Pacific Ethanol.
On Friday, the company posted a third-quarter gross profit of $4.8 million, compared to $7.4 million for the same quarter last year.
Pacific Ethanol also saw a net loss of $4.8 million, or 15 cents per share, for the quarter, compared to net income of $3.8 million, or 7 cents per share, a year ago.
But the company is getting some help from California. On Wednesday, the Golden State approved up to $35 million in financing for Pacific Ethanol.
The financing, a low-interest loan from the sale of tax-exempt bonds, will save the company up to $11.5 million, according to the Contra Costa Times.
The loan will no doubt help the company in efforts to overcome recent setback and reach its production capacity goal of 220 million gallons next year.
Chinese biodiesel producer Gushan Environmental Energy is looking to hit the public market in hopes of raising $250 million, according to a U.S. Securities Exchange Commission document filed Monday.
Gushan claims to be the largest biodiesel producer in China, with a production capacity of 190,000 tons per year.
In its filing, the company also said it's working on advancements in the space and is partnering with research institutions to develop new techniques for the cultivation and processing of raw materials for biodiesel production.
Founded in 2001, the company uses inedible vegetable oil and used cooking oil to produce biodiesel.
Gushan currently has three production facilities in China. The company plans to up its production to 400,000 tons by the end of 2008 with the help of anew two new production facilities.
Underwriters include Merrill Lynch, & Co., CIBC World Markets and Piper Jaffray.
A Perfect Blend
Also on Monday, a group of researchers found that a midrange mix of ethanol and traditional gasoline could provide better fuel economy than traditional regular unleaded.
The finding could help advocates like the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council in their attempt to bring higher biofuel blends to pumps.
Fuel economy has been an issue plaguing ethanol, which delivers less energy per gallon than traditional gasoline.
The researchers, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and the American Coalition for Ethanol, found that an optimal blend -- which most likely hovers around 20 percent to 30 percent ethanol and the rest gasoline -- is one at which a driver actually can get better mileage.
The majority of cars already can run on gasoline with up to 10 percent of the alcohol mixed in. But more and more "flex-fuel" autos are hitting the road, outfitted with the ability to fill up on E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.