Where or Where Will Cellulosic Ethanol Go?

Joanna Schroeder

The world’s largest cellulosic ethanol biorefinery went online Friday, October 30, 2015 in Nevada, Iowa marked by a commissioning celebration featuring several Iowa dignitaries. The day was kicked off with a welcome reception where DuPont Industrial Biosciences President William Feehery spoke about how the company is committed to reforming how energy is produced. Yet despite the jovial mood, there was talk about the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and the EPA’s lack of commitment to advanced biofuels and the concern of where the increasing cellulosic biofuels will go? (More than likely, California).

In Iowa, support for renewable energy is a bipartisan issue. Governor Terry Branstad took the stage calling on the EPA to “support the Iowa way”, which is “together in a bipartisan way, recognizing the benefits of renewable fuels and not being afraid to continue to move forward with these advancements”. He thanked DuPont for having the “courage and tenacity” to build the biorefinery in Iowa, noting cellulosic ethanol was a long-time coming, “but we’re proud the day is finally here and that it’s happening”.

Branstad, among other legislators, took the momentous occasion to call out the EPA for its lack of commitment to supporting the RFS. The agency is expected to publish the 2014, 2015 and 2016 final rules by November 30, 2015 and the agency transmitted the rules to the Office of Management and Budget this week.

Steve Kings signs first bale

IA Representative Steve Kings signs the biomass bale that will be the first bale used to produce cellulosic ethanol. Photo Credit: Joanna Schroeder

When Congressman Steve King took the stage, he focused his remarks on the future of biofuels. “We’re in the beginnings of this, not the end.” He applauded not only the hundreds of millions of dollars invested in the project but also the intellectual investment it took to create the technology. Yet he too took the opportunity to champion the success of the RFS.

“And I wanted to point out also, that yes, we do have a battle in Congress and maybe it starts before this day is over,” said Rep. King. “It ticks me off when they go after the RFS. They [fellow Representatives] came to me on the floor the other day and said what happens if we bring a bill to repeal the RFS to the floor of the House of Representatives. And I looked at them with the dirtiest look I could give and I said that would be a holy war because the RFS is the Holy Grail. It’s market access and without market access they shut us out and we can’t sell this product.”

Another long-standing and vocal supporter of homegrown renewable fuels, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, called DuPont’s achievement revolutionary when he took the platform. “From conception to commercialization, this biorefinery is a byproduct of Iowa ingenuity, innovation and investment,” he said stressing that what has been achieved here is what Congress hoped. Yet once again, he seized the moment to share his frustration over the battle of the RFS and let the audience know that he will continue to fight to ensure the legislation gets back on track and there remains a legislative commitment behind the advanced biofuels industry.

“Defending and maintaining the program is critical, especially for advanced and cellulosic biofuel producers. We can not pull the rug out and we won’t pull the rug out from under you,” said Sen. Grassley who called on the Congress and EPA to reject efforts to undermine the a successful program and encourage them to do whatever they can to encourage the investment in the development of the advanced biofuels industry.

“Yes, is it a day of celebration, but tomorrow is a day for us to continue to fight,” added Grassley. “The fight to show people that everything about ethanol is good. Nothing bad, from this standpoint!”

advance biofuels, Cellulosic, Ethanol, RFS