US EPA looks to get new biofuel feedstocks to market quicker with streamlined review

Source: By Jasmin Melvin, S&P Global • Posted: Sunday, January 23, 2022

The US Environmental Protection Agency Jan. 21 announced plans to streamline reviews of new chemicals that could be used to produce biofuels and in turn displace dirtier transportation fuels.

The initiative, under the Toxic Substances Control Act, aims to support the Biden administration’s overall push to confront the climate crisis as well as the congressionally mandated goal of the Renewable Fuel Standard program to replace a portion of US petroleum-based transportation fuel, heat oil and jet fuel consumption with biofuels that are projected to have fewer lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions.

“Using sound science to streamline the review of more environmentally friendly chemical substitutes will help advance the agency’s climate goals and protect human health and the environment,” Michal Freedhoff, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said in a statement.

The Renewable Fuels Association welcomed the new effort.

RFA CEO Geoff Cooper said it “clearly shows the great potential of low-carbon ethanol to serve as a key building block for other renewable chemicals and sustainable products in the future.”

The EPA’s new chemicals program manages the potential health and environmental risks posed by chemicals new to the marketplace. It allows the agency to set conditions, including a ban on production if necessary, on the use of new chemicals and requires any company that plans to manufacture or import a new chemical for commercial purposes to provide notice to the EPA before initiating such activity.

These pre-manufacture notices (PMNs) include information such as the chemical’s structure and formula, intended use, production volume, byproducts, disposal practices and any existing test data on effects to human health or the environment.

EPA risk assessors review this information and the agency ultimately decides whether the new chemical or significant new use present an unreasonable risk and if a company can move forward with manufacturing or processing.

The EPA said in a press release that it has received more than 30 PMNs that, if collectively allowed to proceed, would allow for the production of nearly 800 million gallons per year of advanced biofuels. Those advanced biofuels “could contribute to annual volume mandates under the RFS program and help support the goals of energy security through increasing domestic production within the US,” the EPA said.

New approach

As such, the agency has formed a dedicated team to review PMNs for biobased or waste-derived feedstocks intended to be used to make transportation fuel substitutes.

The agency said the team will “use the best available science while creating a consistent and efficient review process” premised on standardized procedures developed by EPA’s New Chemicals Division to guide the way biofuel PMNs are reviewed.

As part of the new streamlined approach, the EPA “will generate one report for biofuels PMNs that combines the six different risk assessments typically conducted for PMNs, which will help provide a clearer summary explanation of how EPA conducted its assessment and made its determination,” the agency said. It added that appropriate mitigation measures would be applied to address any potential for unreasonable risk identified during the review process.

Further, the agency will offer outreach and training on the new biofuels initiative, with a kickoff meeting scheduled for Feb. 9.

That and future webinars for stakeholders in the biofuels sector will focus on reviewing TSCA requirements, explaining the new streamlined process for risk assessments and risk management actions and ensuring interested parties understand how to navigate the new chemicals PMN process.

As of Jan. 1, the EPA reported that there were 313 cases in the chemical review process, including PMNs, significant new use notices and microbial commercial activity notices. The agency said it may provide training opportunities to all new chemical submitters, not just those in the biofuels sector, if stakeholder interest and feedback warrants further outreach.