White House wraps up review of fuel technologies

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The White House has completed a seven-month review of renewable fuel technologies and feedstocks.

The review of a rule proposed by U.S. EPA that could allow certain new types of fuel to count under the federal biofuel standard wrapped up Friday, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget. EPA, which sent the rule to the office in October, has yet to release the language of the decisions or to indicate when and how it will take any final action on the fuels.

“EPA anticipates issuing the proposal soon,” the agency told Greenwire this morning.

The package of technologies includes ethanol produced from corn kernel fiber, which could allow existing corn ethanol facilities to take advantage of incentives for advanced biofuels. The package also includes decisions on whether butanol and renewable electricity produced from landfill gas could count for credit under the federal biofuel standard.

EPA is required by statute to analyze expected greenhouse gas emissions reductions before approving any inputs and technology pathways under the renewable fuel standard, which sets yearly targets for both conventional ethanol and advanced biofuels. In order to qualify as an advanced biofuel or biodiesel, a fuel must demonstrate at least a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared with petroleum-based fuel. Cellulosic biofuel, a subset of advanced fuels, has a higher bar of 60 percent.

Once approved, refiners can use the renewable fuels to meet their annual obligations. Companies that have produced advanced technologies generally view approval as boosting demand for their products. Recently approved feedstocks include camelina and energy cane (Greenwire, Feb. 25).

In November 2011, California-based Edeniq Inc. petitioned the agency to accept ethanol made from cellulosic corn kernel fiber, or the portion of the kernel that is left over after the harvesting and processing of corn, as a cellulosic biofuel. The company says its technology could allow ethanol facilities to produce up to 600 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year.

According to Edeniq, several conventional ethanol plants already have put in place the company’s technology, and eight more are prepared to install it in 2013. The technology will “struggle,” though, “until the EPA takes action regarding this feedstock,” Edeniq said in comments this year to the agency.

The rule being issued by EPA proposes an approach to determine the volume of cellulosic credits associated with corn kernel fiber and crop residues, according to OMB. No further information is available.

OMB said the rule also includes a life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions analysis for renewable electricity, renewable diesel and naphtha that has been produced from landfill biogas, as well as an analysis of the emissions of isobutanol.

A drop-in fuel that can be used in existing infrastructure, isobutanol has shown promise in testing in boats and small-engine equipment, as well as in passenger vehicles (Greenwire, Oct. 2, 2012). Isobutanol is one of four compounds of butanol, an alcohol with a four-carbon structure and, traditionally, a primary ingredient in Scotch whisky. When the oxygen molecule is removed, isobutanol becomes a building block for petrochemicals that can be turned into gasoline, jet fuel, rubber products and a wide variety of materials.

Two companies, Gevo Inc. and DuPont Co.-BP PLC joint venture Butamax, have been working to retrofit existing ethanol plants to produce butanol and are involved in a long-running patent dispute over the technology.

The rule by EPA also includes changes to the requirements fuel retailers must meet in order to sell gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol, or E15. It also has changes associated with the ultra-low-sulfur diesel program.