EPA set to approve barley as feedstock

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, July 16, 2013

U.S. EPA has found that ethanol made from barley meets greenhouse gas reduction standards for refiners under the federal biofuel mandate.

When used to make ethanol at facilities powered by natural gas, barley meets the emissions requirement for conventional fuel under the RFS. And with certain processing technologies, barley-derived ethanol meets a higher emissions threshold and could count as an advanced biofuel, EPA found.

EPA has posted a proposed rule on its website, saying it would publish it soon in the Federal Register.

In order to qualify as a renewable fuel, a fuel must demonstrate at least a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to petroleum-based fuel. Advanced biofuels, including biodiesel, must meet a 50 percent reduction, while cellulosic biofuel, a subset of advanced fuels, has a 60 percent mandate.

Refiners may blend approved fuels to help meet their annual obligations under the RFS, the 2007 mandate that the United States blend 36 billion gallons of biofuel into motor fuel a year by 2022.

EPA said that its full life-cycle analysis of barley ethanol’s emissions included a look at the emissions associated with barley production, distribution and use, as well as estimated global land-use change from using barley as a renewable fuel feedstock.

The agency found that ethanol produced from barley at dry mills using natural gas showed a 47 percent reduction in emissions from the petroleum baseline. Ethanol produced from facilities that are more efficient and use less natural gas and electricity meets the emissions requirement for advanced biofuels.

Like corn, barley contains starch that can be broken down into its component sugars and converted into ethanol through fermentation. Use for ethanol has not taken off, though, because its starch content is well below that of corn and its abrasive hull harms farm equipment.

Researchers are developing varieties that are easier to use, though, and the United States has the potential to generate 2 billion gallons of ethanol a year from barley from areas of the country other than the Corn Belt, according to 2010 research published in the journal Biotechnology for Biofuels by the Agriculture Department and other scientists.

Because barley is typically grown as a winter crop on the same fields that grow commodity crops during the summer, using it for ethanol production “requires no new land and does not interfere with food production,” the study found.