Major trade group alters name, broadens focus

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A key trade group representing cellulosic ethanol plans to change its name and expand its focus as debates over the future of the nation’s biofuel policy take center stage in Washington, D.C.

The Advanced Ethanol Council will become the Advanced Biofuels Business Council and open its doors to companies that produce all types of advanced biofuels, including algae fuels, jet fuel and biobutanol, according to AEC Executive Director Brooke Coleman.

The group’s agenda will remain similar, with rallying support for the renewable fuel standard the top priority.

“There was an increasing interest among our membership,” Coleman said, “to be out in the open about what we’re really doing, taking a holistic approach to advanced biofuels.”

The Advanced Ethanol Council formed a few years ago and has received support from the Renewable Fuels Association, a major trade group for the conventional ethanol industry. It has represented the large cellulosic ethanol companies in the country, including POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels LLC, DuPont Industrial Biosciences and Abengoa Bioenergy.

Adam Monroe, president of the Americas for the biofuel enzyme maker Novozymes, will retain his position as chairman of the new group’s board of directors.

POET-DSM, which opened a cellulosic ethanol plant in Iowa last year, and Cellerate, a joint venture between cellulosic ethanol maker Quad County Corn Processors and seed company Syngenta, will take seats on the board of directors.

Aemetis Inc., a fuel and renewable chemical company, will join the new group and also become a board director. New members also include Sweetwater Energy Inc., a renewable chemical producer based in Rochester, N.Y.

“We’re advocating for advanced biofuels, where companies are diverse,” said Vincent Chornet, vice chairman of the ABBC’s board and CEO of Enerkem, which opened a waste-to-fuel plant in Canada last year. “Some are starting to look at other products, other types of fuel, than ethanol. And that’s the right thing to do for the health of the industry at this point.”

The new group will focus its efforts on the RFS, which Congress passed in 2007 to require refiners to blend increasing amounts of ethanol and advanced biofuels in petroleum gasoline. Backers of the policy say the standard has helped reduce the transportation industry’s greenhouse gas footprint.

“It’s pretty easy to see that our agenda is going to remain the same or very similar,” Coleman said. “The RFS is the gold standard in the world for advanced biofuels policy.”

The changes to the group come as U.S. EPA is working toward a Nov. 30 deadline to finalize proposed renewable fuel targets for 2014, 2015 and 2016 through the RFS program. AEC and other biofuel groups argue that the agency’s requirements lowball production estimates and represent a major methodological shift that gives refiners control of the RFS program.

“We do need to collaborate with EPA and have an ongoing dialogue with them as making sure that the RFS is applied as it was intended — to foster biofuels and in particular advanced biofuels,” Chornet said.

The changes also come after another advanced biofuels group, the Advanced Biofuels Association, earlier this year announced that it would support a reform agenda for the renewable fuel standard. The ABFA is backing efforts to extend the RFS program beyond 2022 and to remove a “loophole” that allows refiners to buy credits rather than actual gallons of cellulosic biofuel (Greenwire, March 11).

The ABFA represents about 30 biofuel companies. Other biofuel trade organizations, including the AEC, have distanced themselves from ABFA’s stance in recent months.

Monroe of Novozymes said the changes to AEC weren’t directly in response to the policy shift, but that the new group does not support the ABFA position.

“We don’t agree with their position from a policy perspective,” he said, “but secondly, we recognize that the members there don’t reflect all of the companies that are in the advanced biofuels space.”

Monroe also said the new focus for his group would better reflect a company like Novozymes that is agnostic about which type of advanced biofuel its enzymes are used to produce. Changes to the group’s name will help clear up confusion on Capitol Hill about the different fuels included in the renewable fuel standard, he said.

The RFS includes an “advanced biofuels” category, in which a requirement for “cellulosic biofuel” is nested; the RFS doesn’t specifically identify cellulosic ethanol as being a requirement. The new group will represent the fuels signified by the RFS’s “advanced biofuels” category.

“Simple language up on the Hill is helpful,” Monroe said.

The new group will aim to be aggressive in highlighting the companies that are already producing advanced biofuels — a response to critics in the oil space that have labeled next-generation biofuels as “phantom fuels” for ramping up more slowly than the RFS anticipated.

The group will also highlight the economic and environmental benefits of advanced biofuels, Monroe said.

Coleman said the group’s past focus on just cellulosic ethanol likely gave some policymakers the impression that the advanced biofuels industry was divided.

“There’s some confusion in the marketplace — the political marketplace — about who stands for what,” Coleman said.

“Part of the problem is the administration’s approach to the RFS and their lack of understanding of what the RFS does and how it works,” he added, “but part of the problem is also our ability to uniformly and in a very unified way present the problem and the solution. And we’re not going to facilitate that anymore — we’re just going to attack that problem by creating one voice.”