Jason Barton

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Archive for the ‘RFS2’ tag

RFS2 reduces 2010 cellulosic ethanol requirement

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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.

New Biofuels Strategy and EPA Policy: Promote Clean Energy & Green Jobs

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I agree with Mr. Dineen that there is great promise in second generation technologies such as cellulosic biofuels, and other technologies on the horizon, such as the drop in replacements for gasoline that he mentions later in the article. But I do not agree that the current, high-input, industrial production of corn in the U.S. is a system that should continue, for biofuels or any other purpose. Runoff from nitrogen fertilizers in the Midwest causes tremendous damage to the Gulf of Mexico, creating a hypoxic zone that hurts fishing industries there as well as human health along the Mississippi River Basin. Not only is its production causing considerable damage, its main end uses–as feed for cattle that are not meant to eat grain, or processed into high fructose corn syrup and other products for people–are not healthy in their consumption.

While some have argued that corn serves as a necessary bridge to biofuels feedstocks that do not compete with food or even agricultural land, I see no reason why those technologies cannot continue to be developed in the absence of a corn ethanol industry. The Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS) Dineen discusses mandate increasing amounts of ethanol from these advanced feedstocks, though it is doubtful that we will be able to meet the 2010 standards, the first year that they take effect, of 100 million gallons. Those involved in the corn ethanol supply chain would be more than happy to have that standard waived, allowing those 100 million gallons to be supplied with their product. This does nothing to move us closer to those  biofuels that do not compete with the food supply or even prime agricultural land, are much healthier for the environment, and create more jobs in rural America.

Bob Dinneen

President and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA)

Posted: February 4, 2010 06:42 PM

With two important policy announcements, the Obama Administration is putting the nation on track to increase its production and use of clean-burning, American-made biofuels.

That’s good news for all Americans who care about protecting the environment, combating climate change, generating good-paying jobs, reviving rural communities, and reducing our dependence on imported petroleum.


Second, the Administration understands that the nation needs every proven or promising biofuels technology, from existing corn ethanol to the newer cellulosic (non-grain-based) technologies and the most visionary “next generation” technologies. New or old, we need them all. Yes, it is essential that all the newer technologies – from those closest to fruition to those that are still years from commercialization – have every opportunity to succeed.

Read the entire article here.

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

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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.


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.

EPA biofuels guidelines could spur production of ethanol from corn

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 4, 2010

An employee checks a storage tank at a biodiesel plant in Aberdeen, Wash. EPA standards could lift production of corn-based ethanol. (Carlos Javier Sasnchez/bloomberg News)

The nation’s farmers got a big boost Wednesday when the Obama administration issued new biofuels guidelines that could open the way for large increases in the production of corn-based ethanol.

The Environmental Protection Agency said new data showed that, even after taking into account increased fertilizer and land use, corn-based ethanol can yield significant climate benefits by displacing conventional gasoline or diesel fuel.