Vilsack: Biofuel production unfazed by federal delays

Source: By Donnelle Eller, Des Moines Register • Posted: Wednesday, January 21, 2015

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The next generation of biofuel production didn’t take the hit industry leaders predicted with the delay of a federal mandate requiring ethanol and biodiesel to be blended into the nation’s fuel supply, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told The Des Moines Register’s editorial board Monday.

“I’m not sure that it has been a significant hindrance on investment,” Vilsack told the board. “I’m not saying there hasn’t been some” impact “but it hasn’t been significant.”

The ag secretary said he’s optimistic about the future of renewable fuels, pointing to record U.S. ethanol production last year, developing export, military and aviation markets, and strong interest in building advanced biofuel plants.

Renewable fuels is an important industry in Iowa, the nation’s leading producer of ethanol and biodiesel. Iowa also is home to the next-generation of ethanol plants, using new technology to make the fuel from corn kernels, and corn cobs and other residue to make ethanol.

Iowa’s former governor said research continues to make ethanol more environmentally friendly, building on improvements that have been made in recent years.

He expects the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set Renewable Fuel Standards in the first half of the year, confirming amounts used last year and setting new standards for 2015 and 2016. EPA announced in November it would not set fuel standards for 2014, after receiving widespread opposition from Midwest leaders and residents to plans to reduce the federal limits.

“I think the industry will have a certain level of predictability for a couple of years, which will be helpful,” he said.

Despite strength, the renewable fuels industry still faces significant challenges.

“There’s no question Big Oil is interested in limiting the choices,” Vilsack said. “Especially as gas prices are as low as they are, they will increase their efforts.”

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