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RFS2 reduces 2010 cellulosic ethanol requirement

without comments

Well, this is fairly important news for those of us (meganerds) who are directly involved with this whole biofuels thing.

As a bit of background, in 2007 George Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act, which included the Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS), mandating increasing amounts of renewable fuels, almost entirely ethanol, in the U.S. gasoline supply. The standards, which mandate nearly 13 billion gallons of renewable fuels this year, and up to 36 B gals in 2022, also has substandards for cellulosic ethanol and “advanced biofuels,” which are defined as those that decrease greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% compared to gasoline. (I know, hard to believe that W. would pen a law that mandated GHG reductions, but there we are.)

These new laws, known as RFS2, do not change the overall requirements, but affect some of the environmental accounting and the substandards. First, the original RFS mandated 100 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol, which is ethanol that comes from the green portions of plants such as corn and prairie grasses. The problem is that the technology for these fuels still has a little ways to go, and we are not capable of producing 100 million gallons of it. RFS2 reduces that requirement to 6.5 million gallons, quite a reduction indeed.

The other change is in the assessments of environmental impacts of biofuels, mainly lifecycle analysis (LCA) of GHGs, including those from land use changes. The argument, put forth most notably in a paper by Searchinger et al.  in Science magazine, posits that when corn is diverted from the food supply and used for biofuels, the decreased supply and increased prices induce farmers in other parts of the world to plant more corn. At times this may mean clearing forest for the new crops, and rarely is agricultural land as productive, or are fertilizers and other inputs as available, as in the U.S. Therefore, the 130 or so bushels of corn from one acre of land in the U.S. that’s diverted to ethanol production can mean, for example, an acre and a half of forest cleared in another part of the world. This, Searchinger and others have argued, defeats the purpose of biofuels in that their proposed environmental benefits are undermined by this deforestation.

In the new RFS2 rulings, these land use changes are now counted in the GHG calculations for biofuels, which is a huge advantage for cellulosic biofuels that are not reported to cause these indirect land use changes (ILUCs), but a bit of a hit for corn ethanol producers. Poet LLC’s CEO, Jeff Broin argues in the article below, “we are concerned that some pieces of the rules put out by EPA today run contrary to that stated effort. Although the international indirect land use change penalty has been lessened somewhat, EPA still relied on the disproven theory when all of the data shows that ethanol production continues to improve and isn’t requiring new land.” His statement that Searchinger’s theory is “disproven” stems from the fact that tracking these land use changes is basically impossible. We can’t very well say that one particular acre of corn in the U.S. diverted to ethanol means that another specific acre of land is diverted to corn from a particular land use to make up for the fallen supply.

As the debate rages on, as I’ve said in previous posts on this site, corn ethanol does not seem to me to translate to healthy, efficient use of land, especially given the terrible effects on land and water from the way we grow corn. I am also not convinced that such large scale corn ethanol production is necessary in order ease the transition to second and third generation biofuels technologies. Finally, while I believe there is great promise for those advanced technologies, the greatest promise, in terms of efficacy and cost effectiveness, lies in the simple task of using less transportation fuel.

By Lisa Gibson

Posted February 3, 2010, at 4:22 p.m. CST

The new requirement for cellulosic biofuel production in 2010 is reduced to 6.5 million ethanol–equivalent gallons in the renewable fuels standard (RFS2), down significantly from the 100 million gallons established in RFS1, included in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The U.S. EPA released final RFS2 rules Feb. 3 as media outlets, producers and others scrambled to find out how it will affect their industries.

[…]

“I think it’s a great change,” said Arnold Klann, CEO of California-based BlueFire ethanol, which focuses on producing cellulosic ethanol from waste. “It was very clear our industry couldn’t meet the standard set for this year.” He added that the new goal is easily achievable and was a good decision.

[…]

Ethanol from sugarcane also meets the standard, reducing GHG emissions by 61 percent. “EPA’s reaffirmation of sugarcane ethanol’s superior GHG reduction confirms that sustainably-produced biofuels can play an important role in climate mitigation,” said Joel Velasco, chief representative in Washington for the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA). “Sugarcane ethanol is a first generation biofuel with third generation performance.”

[…]

RFS2 rules were originally scheduled for release Jan. 1, 2009, but inclusion of new elements pushed it back. It expands the scope of the program and lays out the strategy for reaching the RFS of 36 billion gallons by 2022. Currently, the country is not on track to meet that goal, as only about 12 billion gallons of biofuels are produced annually. President Obama’s biofuels initiative, also released Feb. 3, states that the goals will be met by supporting the existing biofuels industry, while accelerating the commercial establishment of advanced biofuels by increasing communication and having a strategic plan across the U.S. government, and by employing strategic public-private partnerships.

Read the entire article here.

UNICA Continues Pressure on U.S. to Drop Ethanol Tariff

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To listen to UNICA, the powerful voice of Brazil’s sugarcane and ethanol industry, you’d think the U.S. tariff on imported ethanol would be gone by the end of the week. I don’t see that happening, and definitely don’t think an all-at-once elimination would be good for Brazil.

Ethanol accounts for half of their transportation fuel by volume (slightly less on an energy content basis), and if the U.S. tariff were eliminated, Brazilian producers would likely sell a huge portion of their ethanol to U.S. buyers, forcing Brazilian drivers to pay higher prices, or, more likely, revert to far more gasoline. This could jeopardize Brazil’s energy independence and would impact their balance of trade, though probably only slightly.

Additionally, just as UNICA and the studies they cite may sound certain that this tariff of US$0.54 per gallon is terrible for American drivers, its elimination would not hurt corn farmers, and so is soon to be history, U.S. corn farmers and our ethanol industry, led by Growth Energy, the U.S. counterpart to UNICA, are equally sure that government support is necessary and here to stay.

Let me be clear that I am not a fan of corn ethanol. I have become much more encouraged about cellulosic and other technologies on the near horizon, but still believe that corn is produced irresponsibly and at great harm to ecological, human, and even bovine health. I don’t blame farmers for this, as they are working within a system that rewards growing corn without taking into account the negative externalities.

All this said, the best scenario would likely be reducing the tariff on U.S. importation of Brazilian ethanol to meet the “advanced biofuels” mandates laid out in George Bush’s Renewable Fuels Standards, as allowed by the recent EPA findings in the RFS2 decision in February. This would gradually increase Brazilian ethanol’s presence in the U.S., while also encouraging the much needed move to second and third generation biofuels technologies, reducing our dependence on imported oil and increasing our energy independence and security.

Any of this, of course, must be done in concert with vastly increased efforts towards energy efficiency, driving less, more efficient vehicles, etc.

Here are a few of the pieces from UNICA…

Scholars call for phase-out of U.S. ethanol tariff at Wilson Center seminar
07/26/2010

(left to right) Joel Velasco, Alexandros Petersen, Paulo Sotero,
Robbin Johnson and C. Ford Runge

An open and globalized biofuels market is essential to promote greater efficiency and competitiveness, and phasing out the US$0,54 per gallon tariff imposed by the United States on imported ethanol would be a key step in the right direction. The recommendation came from two University of Minnesota scholars during the “Biofuels: Food, Fuel, and the Future?” panel, organized by the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C, on Friday, July 23.

Read the entire article here.

And a second piece, citing the study from the University of Iowa:

Universidade americana vê ganhos para consumidores com fim de tarifa sobre etanol importado
26/07/2010

Em meio a um debate aquecido e ganhando cada vez mais visibilidade nos Estados Unidos, um estudo divulgado na terça-feira (20/07) por um renomado economista agrícola do meio-oeste americano está desafiando conclusões catastróficas, geralmente disseminadas por grupos de lobby do etanol de milho, sobre o que poderia acontecer se a atual tarifa de US$0,54 por galão (3,78 litros) imposta ao etanol importado expirar no final deste ano como planejado. O estudo, realizado por Bruce Babcock, chefe do Centro de Agricultura e Desenvolvimento Rural (CARD em inglês) da Universidade do Estado de Iowa, apresenta um cenário bem diferente.

Read the entire article here.

And the University of Iowa study to which they are referring:

CARD Study Shows U.S. Ethanol Production and Corn Demand Will Grow With or Without Subsidy and Tariff

Contacts:
Bruce A. Babcock ; babcock@iastate.edu
Sandy Clarke; sclarke@iastate.edu

July 20, 2010

America’s growing interest in renewable fuels has spurred a robust discussion about the pros and cons of continuing or changing current U.S. federal government ethanol policies, specifically, (1) mandates to increase the use of renewable fuels like ethanol from approximately 13 billion gallons today to 36 billion gallons by 2022, (2) a 45-cent-per-gallon tax credit for “blenders” who add ethanol to gasoline, and (3) a 54-cent-per-gallon tariff, which increases the price of foreign imports.

Read the entire article here.

Rival Ethanol Trade Groups Campaigning to Woo Senators, Clobber Each Other

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With talks well underway in the U.S. Congress for a new energy/climate bill, the U.S. EPA’s recent decision that Brazilian sugarcane ethanol meets the “advanced fuel” mandate, and now Brazil’s removal of their tariff on imported ethanol, the stage is set for some heated discussion about lowering or even eliminating our own tariff, as several senators have argued the U.S. Government should do.

The Brazilian sugarcane and ethanol industry association, UNICA, has recently launched a website and a series of ads aimed at winning over U.S. consumers.

An important note: The paper cited at the end of this article that claims larger environmental benefits from corn ethanol is not indicative of the U.S. corn ethanol production system. It focuses on fewer, newer refineries that use natural gas and have greater efficiency. If the whole U.S. corn ethanol production system were like those surveyed by Liska et al. (2009) then yes, the fuel would be cleaner. But as it stands this is not the case of the average refinery.

All of this back and forth makes my time here in Brazil that much more interesting. I’ll keep you posted.

By ANNE C. MULKERN of Greenwire
Published: April 13, 2010

Two rival trade groups seeking congressional help for the ethanol industry launched advertising yesterday to promote themselves and bash one another.

Growth Energy Inc., which represents corn and other domestic ethanol producers, seeks to maintain supremacy at home, while the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association, or UNICA, wants to tear down corn ethanol’s benefits in order to grab a larger share of the U.S. market.

Read the entire article here.

Biofuels Lowdown

with 2 comments

The Renewable Fuels Standards, their recent revisions, and some of what it means for biofuels, and for Americans, in the next decade.

A sugarcane plantation in São Paulo, Brazil

What’s below was a post from earlier this month, but I received enough questions about it that I thought it should be its own page. It has been fascinating to work in the biofuels realm these past few years, maybe even more so since I still don’t have my mind made up about how beneficial they are, or how effective they can be at achieving the goals of rural economic development and being a more environmentally friendly transportation fuel.

I began working with biofuels while living in Brazil, and initially had the intention of discussing what a silly idea it is to use valuable agricultural land to produce transportation fuels, basically taking food out of people’s mouths and putting it in to our gas tanks. Corn in the U.S. is especially destructive in so many ways, and I feared the expansion of sugarcane ethanol in Brazil forcing other agricultural activities into sensitive and priceless places such as the Amazon Rainforest.

Well, here we are almost four years later and, casting aside my preconceptions in the interest of objectivity, I’ve learned so much about how much food there is in the world, how much of it we waste, and the vast potential for biofuels technology.

Yes, it is possible that we will soon be able to take food and other kinds of waste and extract the usable energy,  pushing us tantalizingly closer to that scene in Back to the Future when Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) shoves some banana peels into the flux capacitor to fuel his Delorian.

Okay, that may still be a ways off, but it is interesting to look at the possibilities, so long as we are always mindful that the energy in the world is finite, and that efforts to develop these technologies should always be preceded by efforts at conservation and efficiency.

You can find more articles about biofuels here.

Thanks for reading, and, as always, please feel free to leave a comment anywhere on this site and let me know what you think.

jjb

Well, this is fairly important news for those of us (meganerds) who are directly involved with this whole biofuels thing.

As a bit of background, in 2007 George Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act, which included the Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS), mandating increasing amounts of renewable fuels, almost entirely ethanol, in the U.S. gasoline supply. The standards, which mandate nearly 13 billion gallons of renewable fuels this year, and up to 36 B gals in 2022, also has substandards for cellulosic ethanol and “advanced biofuels,” which are defined as those that decrease greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% compared to gasoline. (I know, hard to believe that W. would pen a law that mandated GHG reductions, but there we are.)

These new laws, known as RFS2, do not change the overall requirements, but affect some of the environmental accounting and the substandards. First, the original RFS mandated 100 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol, which is ethanol that comes from the green portions of plants such as corn and prairie grasses. The problem is that the technology for these fuels still has a little ways to go, and we are not capable of producing 100 million gallons of it. RFS2 reduces that requirement to 6.5 million gallons, quite a reduction indeed.

The other change is in the assessments of environmental impacts of biofuels, mainly lifecycle analysis (LCA) of GHGs, including those from land use changes. The argument, put forth most notably in a paper by Searchinger et al.  in Science magazine, posits that when corn is diverted from the food supply and used for biofuels, the decreased supply and increased prices induce farmers in other parts of the world to plant more corn. At times this may mean clearing forest for the new crops, and rarely is agricultural land as productive, or are fertilizers and other inputs as available, as in the U.S. Therefore, the 130 or so bushels of corn from one acre of land in the U.S. that’s diverted to ethanol production can mean, for example, an acre and a half of forest cleared in another part of the world. This, Searchinger and others have argued, defeats the purpose of biofuels in that their proposed environmental benefits are undermined by this deforestation.

In the new RFS2 rulings, these land use changes are now counted in the GHG calculations for biofuels, which is a huge advantage for cellulosic biofuels that are not reported to cause these indirect land use changes (ILUCs), but a bit of a hit for corn ethanol producers. Poet LLC’s CEO, Jeff Broin argues in the article below, “we are concerned that some pieces of the rules put out by EPA today run contrary to that stated effort. Although the international indirect land use change penalty has been lessened somewhat, EPA still relied on the disproven theory when all of the data shows that ethanol production continues to improve and isn’t requiring new land.” His statement that Searchinger’s theory is “disproven” stems from the fact that tracking these land use changes is basically impossible. We can’t very well say that one particular acre of corn in the U.S. diverted to ethanol means that another specific acre of land is diverted to corn from a particular land use to make up for the fallen supply.

As the debate rages on, as I’ve said in previous posts on this site, corn ethanol does not seem to me to translate to healthy, efficient use of land, especially given the terrible effects on land and water from the way we grow corn. I am also not convinced that such large scale corn ethanol production is necessary in order ease the transition to second and third generation biofuels technologies. Finally, while I believe there is great promise for those advanced technologies, the greatest promise, in terms of efficacy and cost effectiveness, lies in the simple task of using less transportation fuel.

By Lisa Gibson

Posted February 3, 2010, at 4:22 p.m. CST

The new requirement for cellulosic biofuel production in 2010 is reduced to 6.5 million ethanol–equivalent gallons in the renewable fuels standard (RFS2), down significantly from the 100 million gallons established in RFS1, included in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The U.S. EPA released final RFS2 rules Feb. 3 as media outlets, producers and others scrambled to find out how it will affect their industries.

[…]

“I think it’s a great change,” said Arnold Klann, CEO of California-based BlueFire ethanol, which focuses on producing cellulosic ethanol from waste. “It was very clear our industry couldn’t meet the standard set for this year.” He added that the new goal is easily achievable and was a good decision.

[…]

Ethanol from sugarcane also meets the standard, reducing GHG emissions by 61 percent. “EPA’s reaffirmation of sugarcane ethanol’s superior GHG reduction confirms that sustainably-produced biofuels can play an important role in climate mitigation,” said Joel Velasco, chief representative in Washington for the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA). “Sugarcane ethanol is a first generation biofuel with third generation performance.”

[…]

RFS2 rules were originally scheduled for release Jan. 1, 2009, but inclusion of new elements pushed it back. It expands the scope of the program and lays out the strategy for reaching the RFS of 36 billion gallons by 2022. Currently, the country is not on track to meet that goal, as only about 12 billion gallons of biofuels are produced annually. President Obama’s biofuels initiative, also released Feb. 3, states that the goals will be met by supporting the existing biofuels industry, while accelerating the commercial establishment of advanced biofuels by increasing communication and having a strategic plan across the U.S. government, and by employing strategic public-private partnerships.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

February 22nd, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Posted in

EPA reaffirms sugarcane biofuel is advanced Renewable fuel with 61% less emissions than gasoline

without comments

This is huge. It blows open the door for vast increases in U.S. importation of Brazilian ethanol. I’m not sure if this is positive or negative, but it makes the work I’m doing, investigating the possible impacts of this increased importation, that much more pressing.

There is currently a tariff on imported ethanol here in the U.S. of $0.54 per gallon. We are still the largest importers of Brazilian ethanol, but it is a small fraction of both their production and our biofuels use. This ruling makes it increasingly likely that the U.S. will have to do something to lower or at least suspend this tariff in order to meet the Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS).

The Energy Independence and Security Act, which created the RFS (much discussed on this site) was signed into law by George Bush in 2007. Not only does it mandate increasing amounts of renewable fuels, mostly ethanol, in our fuel supply stretching out to 36 billion gallons in 2022, it also mandates use of “advanced biofuels,” which must reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by at least 50% compared to gasoline.

For now, the only fuel that may be able to satisfy that mandate is Brazilian sugarcane ethanol.

There has been much debate regarding which fuels accomplish this GHG reduction, with many reliable models both including and excluding U.S. corn ethanol, while almost all of them maintain that Brazilian cane ethanol does indeed reduce GHGs by at least 60%, with some claiming it reduces emissions by as much as 80%.

This ruling by the EPA doesn’t necessarily end the debate, but it makes it law that, according to U.S. policy, Brazilian cane ethanol is the only renewable fuel available today on sufficient scale to accomplish this objective.

I’ll be in Brazil later this month to gather more data, mostly asking the folks there what they think.

02/03/2010

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has confirmed that ethanol made from sugarcane is a low carbon renewable fuel, which can contribute significantly to the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As part of today’s announcement finalizing regulations for the implementation of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2), the EPA designated sugarcane ethanol as an advanced biofuel that lowers GHG emissions by more than 50%.

Read the entire article here.

Standing at the Crossroads: The Biofuels Industry in Colorado

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One of the more important points in this article is that “the Federal Government should let the marketplace determine who wins this race.” George Bush already laid out the framework in his 2007 update of the Renewable Fuel Standards, and it has just recently been clarified with the EPA’s RFS2 decision.

Under the RFS, the U.S. will need to increase use of renewable fuels, up to 36 billion gallons in 2022. Furthermore, the use of corn ethanol is capped at 15B gallons starting in 2015, meaning that those Colorado companies with the most economically, environmentally, and energetically efficient cellulosic and other advanced bioenergy technologies will have a place in the market.

As for the need for qualified managers with extensive technical understanding of bioenergy, as well as the ability to convey it’s merits to potential buyers and the public, I’m currently in Brazil working in their bioenergy sector, but I’ll be back in Colorado at the beginning of May.

February 1st, 2010

Colorado’s biofuels industry is faring better than elsewhere in the country, thanks to local entrepreneurial spirit, the area’s universities, the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) coupled with Governor Ritter’s early leadership in the New Energy Economy. However, bolder and more sustained actions are required if the state’s vision of becoming the cleantech version of Silicon Valley is to be realized. Colorado’s biofuels industry stands very much at a crossroads.

[…]

As an example, consider alternatives to traditional diesel fuel. At last count there were six different feedstock-technology pathways being developed by various companies across the US. How can federal policy makers know with any certainty [which technology] will ultimately win the race for a conventional diesel substitute? Maybe one is better in certain climates and geographies while another elsewhere. The federal government should let the marketplace determine who wins this race. Similar complexity exists for ethanol, butanol and other fuel alternatives.

[…]

Two-thirds of biofuels firms in Colorado believe enhancing the availability/supply of skilled employees is needed to build a robust clean-energy sector in the Front Range. Views vary, however, as to which functional areas (e.g. engineers, sales, technical) are most pressing, but expanding the pool of talented managerial staff emerges as the top priority.

Read the entire article here.