RFS unlikely to meet greenhouse gas goals — audit

Source: Ariel Wittenberg, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The renewable fuel standard program will likely miss its greenhouse gas reduction targets due to limited production of advanced biofuel, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Advanced biofuels achieve greater greenhouse gas reductions than conventional biofuels, but traditional biofuels like ethanol account for most of the biofuel blended under the RFS.

In 2015, for example, production of advanced biofuels amounted to less than 5 percent of the 3-billion-gallon target in the RFS program.

With advanced biofuel production already falling behind, it is unlikely to catch up by 2022 for the program to meet its goals, according to the report.

“In the absence of advanced biofuels, most of the biofuel blended under the RFS to date has been conventional corn-starch ethanol, which achieves smaller greenhouse gas emission reductions compared with advanced biofuels,” the report says.

The shortfall in advanced biofuel production is partly due to higher production costs, according to the GAO. Though those costs could be reduced with more investment in research and development, the GAO found such initiatives are “unlikely in the current investment climate.”

Talk about repealing the RFS has contributed to a lack of investment in biofuels, the GAO found.

The government watchdog wrote that though “little can be done to address the threat of a repeal of the RFS,” U.S. EPA could assuage investors’ anxieties by clarifying how it will manage the program in the future.

The challenges in producing advanced biofuels mean most of the biofuel blended under the RFS is corn-starch ethanol.

But using more ethanol in the transportation system to compensate for the lack of advanced biofuels is unrealistic because most vehicles and fueling infrastructure cannot handle fuel blends above E10.

Most vehicles sold in the United States prior to 2015 cannot use ethanol blends above 10 percent due to concerns about engine performance, the GAO writes.

“If ethanol continues to be the primary biofuel produced to meet the RFS, these infrastructure limitations will have to be addressed,” the report says.