Minnesota Legislature: Bill would broaden biofuels additives in state

Source: By Leslie Brooks Suzukamo, Pioneer Press • Posted: Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Minnesota legislators will get a chance Wednesday, Feb. 27, to look at a bill that would allow a different kind of corn-based biofuel besides ethanol to be mixed with gasoline.

The bill also would set an “aspirational goal” of displacing more petroleum use by calling for Minnesota gasoline to contain a 30 percent mixture of biofuels by 2025, said Tim Rudnicki, executive director of the Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association, a state trade group.

The proposed 30 percent blend is not a mandate, Rudnicki said.

“The intent is to open the door to the use of more ethanol and the use of more biofuels of all kinds,” Rudnicki said.

The new biofuel that would be allowed to be blended in Minnesota gasoline is called isobutanol. Most of the world’s supply comes from petroleum, but two companies — Butamax in Wilmington, Del., and Gevo in Englewood, Colo. — say they can distill a bio-based version from corn.

Like ethanol, the fuel is an alcohol, but because it is chemically different, it is not covered by Minnesota’s requirement for 10 percent ethanol in the state’s gasoline, said Adam Schubert, the strategy and regulatory affairs manager for Butamax, a joint venture created by oil giant BP and DuPont to make bio-butanol, the bio-based version of isobutanol.

The bill would replace the word “ethanol” in current law with the more general “biofuels” to allow room for butanol or other bio-based fuels that may be invented, Schubert said.

Schubert is scheduled to testify

Wednesday morning before the House Agriculture Policy Committee, where the bill is authored by Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin. He also will appear that afternoon before the Senate Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, headed by Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, who authored the Senate version of the bill.

Should bio-butanol be allowed for vehicle use in Minnesota, it could create competition at the pump that would drive down the costs of different blends of corn-based fuels, Schubert said.

But corn ethanol has not only been opposed by the petroleum industry, but by environmentalists and livestock farmers who say it diverts land from food to fuel production.

Butamax has no butanol plants in place, but it has an “early adopters group” of ethanol producers — including Highwater Ethanol in Lamberton, Minn., and Granite Falls Energy in Granite Falls, Minn. — that are interested in converting their plants to make butanol, Schubert said

Gevo last spring converted an ethanol plant in Luverne, Minn., but it ran into problems scaling up production in September, so it stopped production to make adjustments, company officials said.