Never in the history of corn-based ethanol have so many Nebraska ethanol plants been idle. “This would be the largest drop we’ve ever seen,” Todd Sneller of the Nebraska Ethanol Board said as he reacted to the most recent idling announcement from AGP at Hastings.
A trio of Republican senators introduced legislation that would force U.S. EPA to base its annual targets for cellulosic biofuel on the previous year’s production. The legislation addresses what the oil industry considers a major flaw with the renewable fuel standard. EPA’s aggressive targets, the industry says, force refiners to pay penalties for “phantom fuels,” or cellulosic fuels that are not yet widely available in the market. Sens. David Vitter (R-La.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) introduced S. 251, the “Phantom Fuel Reform Act.” Reps. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) and Jim Matheson (D-Utah) yesterday introduced an identical House measure (E&ENews PM, Feb. 7).
Advocates for the biofuel industry are sharpening their swords and ginning up support for the federal mandate on biofuel blending in anticipation of a new round of attacks from the oil and gas industry. Under the renewable fuel standard (RFS), refiners are required to mix 36 billion gallons of biofuel with traditional transportation fuel by 2022. Of that amount, 21 billion gallons is to come from advanced biofuels, such as cellulosic ethanol. The oil and gas industry has waged a war against the RFS, citing the shortage of advanced biofuels and impossible-to-meet blending targets. In preparation for a renewed debate over the program, supporters defended the mandate for its energy security, economic and environmental benefits yesterday at the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) Policy Forum on Capitol Hill.
Previewing his upcoming State of the Union address, President Obama yesterday urged House Democrats to support energy-efficient programs during the 113th Congress. peaking at the Democrats’ policy retreat less than an hour outside of Washington, D.C., Obama reaffirmed a commitment to pursue an energy agenda during his second term consisting of less drilling for oil while developing more fuel-efficient factories and modes of transportation.
“I’m going to make sure that we’re focused on job creation here in America, and that means that we have an energy agenda that can make us less dependent on foreign oil,” Obama said. Such an “energy strategy,” as he put it, “would maintain our leadership well into the future.”
As legislation proposing to reform or repeal the renewable fuel standard starts to trickle in, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has a message for the ethanol industry: The Obama administration is squarely behind you. At a speech yesterday at a renewable fuels industry gathering here, Vilsack acknowledged the congressional and legal challenges facing the ethanol sector and repeated his unwavering support for the industry. Opponents have stepped up attacks this year, he said, because the ethanol industry is so far “winning” the various battles on and off Capitol Hill.
In his second inaugural address, President Obama promised to take on climate change as a priority in his second term. “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” he said at the start of one of the longest passages devoted to a single subject in the speech. But the president did not detail exactly how he intended to act, given the hostility in Congress and industry to taxes on carbon dioxide emissions or any broad-gauged legislative effort to address the problem. Officials said that he would put some flesh on the bones of his promise in his State of the Union address next week and in his budget proposal.
The biodiesel industry has its sights set on providing 10 percent of the nation’s on-road diesel within a decade. The target is a “stretch goal but yet attainable,” National Biodiesel Board CEO Joe Jobe told an annual industry conference here yesterday. Last year, biodiesel companies produced a record 1.052 billion gallons, topping the 2011 amount by 6 million gallons, according to U.S. EPA. Biodiesel accounts for about 3 percent of the 38-billion-gallon on-road diesel market.
U.S. EPA would be compelled to base its annual cellulosic biofuel requirements on the previous year’s actual production under legislation introduced late yesterday by a bipartisan pair of House members. The bill, introduced by Reps. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) and Jim Matheson (D-Utah), addresses what the oil industry says has been a problem with cellulosic requirements over the last several years. The targets, which EPA sets each year under the renewable fuel standard, are consistently over-optimistic, the oil industry says, requiring companies to pay fines for fuel that does not yet exist.
The next generation of biofuels will come from the sugars in agricultural residues, switch grass, poplar trees and city trash. But advanced biorefineries today work best with a single feedstock, and they depend on its year-round availability. That’s a problem. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that that might not be the case out in the real world,” said Blake Simmons, a researcher at the San Francisco-based Joint Bioenergy Institute and a co-author of a new feedstock study in Biofuels. Biorefineries “need to be able to manage mixtures of feedstocks that are available year-round.”
A testing firm funded by oil and automotive companies has emerged as the latest player in a tug of war between the oil industry and biofuels interests, although the corporation claims to want no part in the fight. But owing to its recent studies questioning the safety of some ethanol/gas mixtures, the Coordinating Research Council Inc. has taken heat from biofuels proponents and even the Department of Energy.