Experts Present Case for Ethanol vs Gasoline

ethanol-plant-rfaLeading experts in the field of lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) analysis and agricultural land use today responded to claims that corn ethanol and other biofuels are somehow worse for the climate than petroleum.

A panel of scientists and economists refuted the suggestion by anti-biofuel advocates that carbon accounting schemes should not credit bioenergy feedstocks for CO2 absorption based on the notion that the feedstock would have absorbed CO2 even if it wasn’t being used for biofuel. Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) Senior Vice President Geoff Cooper, who moderated the panel, called the assertion “illogical” and said “it’s a bit like saying the wind was going to blow anyway, so wind energy shouldn’t be counted as carbon neutral; or the sun was going to shine anyway, so we shouldn’t assume that solar panels are harnessing ‘free’ energy from the sun.”

California-based Life Cycle Associates (LCA) just released a new report on how biofuels have helped reduce GHG emissions in the United States since 2008 under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2). “The lifecycle approach is the best metric for greenhouse gas emissions for biofuels because it takes into account the fact that this is short cycle carbon that was recently removed from the air,” said LCA Senior Partner Stefan Unnasch. “The alternative system means that you have to have global accounting of all agriculture… that’s simply impossible and the opportunities for fraud are present everywhere.” Even if such a carbon flow approach was possible, if done correctly it would show that bioenergy reduces GHG emissions compared to petroleum.

LCA scientist Susan Boland explains that their recent study actually found greater GHG emissions reductions from biofuels than expected. “We found that the RFS2 has resulted in significant GHG reductions, with cumulative CO2 savings of 353 million metric tonnes over the period of implementation. These emissions savings occurred even though cellulosic biofuels have not met the RFS2 production targets,” said Boland.

University of Illinois-Chicago economist Steffen Mueller noted that much is made about land going into biofuels production. “But that land area is really relatively small,” he said. “There’s a lot of other land available that we can use to optimize sequestration potential.” Commenting on the latest Department of Energy analysis, Mueller said “…ethanol produced from corn grain and corn stover provides substantial greenhouse gas benefits over gasoline.” The latest version of GREET shows life cycle emissions for corn ethanol in the range of 63.5‒66.4 gCO2e/MJ, which is over 30% less than the 94 gCO2e/MJ for gasoline.

Meanwhile, Purdue University economist Dr. Wally Tyner takes issue with the assumption land used for biofuel feedstock production would have grown the same feedstock for some other purpose or reverted to a natural state in the absence of biofuels demand. “If we hadn’t have had biofuels in the United States, we might still be paying farmers not to grow as we were before biofuels came along,” said Tyner. “So the assumption that all of this would have happened anyway I think is absurd.”

Listen to the call here: RFA GHG conference call

RFA Urges Secy Kerry to Promote RFS

As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry prepares to head to COP 21 in Paris, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) is calling on him to promote the success of Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen urged Kerry in a letter to highlight the role of the RFS in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and encourage other countries to follow the example.

rfalogo1“On behalf of America’s renewable fuel producers and farmers across the country poised to contribute to lower carbon fuels here and across the globe, I ask you to be bold in Paris,” the letter states. “I ask that you encourage other nations to follow the lead of the United States, which has the single most effective and aggressive low carbon fuels program the world has to offer – and it has been a phenomenal success.”

Dinneen’s letter noted that although the RFS is a potent weapon in combating climate change and has a proven track record of reducing GHG emissions, the U.S. government’s actions leading up to Paris have not sufficiently embraced what he called “America’s best kept climate policy secret”. Enclosed with the letter was a recent RFA report indicating that nearly 30 countries attending COP21 have included biofuels policies and programs in their post-2020 climate action plans, but the U.S. plan does not even mention the RFS or biofuels.

In closing, the letter states, “Mr. Secretary, a very convenient truth is that renewable biofuels are poised to replace a dramatically increasing share of the world’s liquid transportation fuel. We are doing that successfully and to great benefit in the United States. With your leadership, the world will follow. But we must not be afraid to trumpet our success.”

Energy Companies Sign On to Climate Pledge

Energy company across the U.S. have signed on to support the American Business Act on Climate Pledge, a program the White House announced in July 2015. The 81 companies are part of the third round of pledges and have committed to reduce their impact on Earth. Abengoa Bioenergy US, Aemetis, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Biogen, Novozymes, Pacific Ethanol and Tri-Global Energy are just a few of the energy companies who have signed on to increase low-carbon investments, deploy more clean energy and take other actions to build more sustainable businesses.

White house logoSome examples of actions taken by Pacific Ethanol include: by 2025, produce a minimum of 50 million gallons per year of ultra-low carbon ethanol that will reduce GHG emissions by 90% on a relative basis (g/MJ) compared to gasoline. They also pledged to reduce their process carbon emissions by 40% by 2025, “as part of an effort to develop long-term business plans that align with the deep decarbonization necessary to keep global average temperatures from rising less than 2C”.

Other examples include commitments to add more wind and solar energy from Tri-Global Energy while Abengoa has pledged to require contractors and suppliers to calculate and report their GHG emissions in order to accurately and affirmatively achieve further incremental emissions reductions in the supply chain; and continue to improve energy efficiencies and emissions controls in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 10%, compared to a 2005 baseline, by 2025.

The measures taken by these hundreds of companies helped President Obama set an ambitious but achievable goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions economy-wide by 26-28 percent. To date, 150 countries representing more than 85% of global carbon emissions have reported post-2020 climate policies to the United Nations. To read the American Business Act on Climate Pledge as well as to read the 81 companies’ pledges, click here.

RFA Shuns New Anti-RFS Campaign

The publicly anti-ethanol organization Smarter Fuel Future has launched a campaign calling on Congress and the administration to repeal the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The coalition is backed by Big Oil along with various food, environmental and anti-hunger organizations.

rfalogo1In response to the campaign, Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) President and CEO Bob Dinneen said: “The oil industry thinks it’s being slick by engaging in a consistent and relentless misinformation campaign that is based on false assumptions, straw dogs, and half-truths. There is nothing that Big Oil is spouting with this latest wave of scare tactics that we haven’t seen before. Once again the petroleum industry is making patently false assumptions about the relationship between food and fuel. In 2014, a record corn crop sent prices to four-year lows, and more grain was available globally for food and feed use than ever before. In fact, less than 3 percent of the global grain supply that year was used for ethanol.

“The Big Oil misinformation campaign also makes spurious claims about ethanol’s impact on the environment. Lifecycle analyses by the Department of Energy and others, including the University of Illinois, the International Energy Agency, and Life Cycle Associates have shown that, since the final RFS rule was implemented, grain ethanol produced today reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent compared to fossil fuels — even when hypothetical land use emissions are taken into account. Ethanol production from last year reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 40 million metric tons — the equivalent of removing 8.4 million cars from the road. These facts show that investment in biofuels in general and ethanol in particular is critical if we are serious as a nation about creating a future where our energy is cleaner, more secure, and more affordable.”

Dinneen, on behalf of ethanol supporters is calling on Congress and the administration to ignore the latest “smoke and mirrors” campaign from Big Oil. “Instead of repealing the RFA, Dinneen stressed, “the administration, through the Environmental Protection Agency, needs to break down the supposed ‘blend wall’ and implement the RFS the way Congress intended.”

RFA: EPA Probe Will Go Nowhere

rfalogo1The Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published an announcement that they would begin preliminary research into the lifecycle impacts of EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The work will be conducted within the Office of Air and Radiation and the Office of Research and Development. The OIG’s objectives of the study are to determine whether the EPA:

  1. complied with the reporting requirements of laws authorizing the RFS; and
  2. updated the lifecycle analysis supporting the RFS with findings from the mandated National Academy of Sciences 2011 study on Biofuels, the EPA’s 2011 Report to Congress on the Environmental Impacts of Biofuels as well as any more recent and relevant research on lifecycle impacts of biofuels.

In response to the announcement, Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) CEO Bob Dinneen said, “For years RFA has been asking the EPA to update their analysis of the RFS’s impacts on greenhouse gas emissions so we welcome this review, as it will give the public a clearer picture of the climate benefits that ethanol is producing today. ”

“Lifecycle analyses conducted by the Department of Energy and others since the final RFS rule was implemented have shown that grain ethanol produced today reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent compared to fossil fuels — even when hypothetical land use emissions are taken into account. And, added Dinneen, the EPA has recently approved nearly 50 petitions from grain ethanol producers for its efficient producer program, with each petition requiring careful lifecycle analysis based on actual production data. These results show that the RFS is doing what it was intended to do, and is a potent weapon in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

No date has been set for the release of the report.

NEB Debuts Biofuel Education Videos

The Nebraska Ethanol Board has debut several biofuel education videos that focus on the economic and environmental benefits of using renewable fuels. The ‘white board-style’ biofuel videos starring gruff military man Colonel Korn and modern couple Andy & Sandy.

“The educational messages embodied in the new videos are an excellent means of communicating the benefits of ethanol to students as well as older adults,” said Todd Sneller, Nebraska Ethanol Board administrator. “They are brief, factual and quickly convey the economic, environment and public health advantages associated with ethanol and other biofuels.”

Colonel Korn takes the audience on a journey through Nebraska’s $5 billion ethanol industry. He shares why American Ethanol is important to the state and the world, discussing exports and co-product use along the way.

Andy and Sandy focus on the journey to become more environmental minded, they discover the environmental benefits of biofuels.

The new videos will be used throughout the state to inform consumers about the benefits of biofuels. The videos are available to share online, but DVDs also can be requested through the Nebraska Ethanol Board office.

Ethanol Industry ‘Displeased’ With New RFS Report

The ethanol industry is displeased with a recent report on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) that is not favorable to corn-based ethanol. The report, “10-Year Review of the Renewable Fuels Standard: Impacts to the Environment, The Economy, and Advanced Biofuels Development,” was published by the Agricultural & Resources Economics Department at the University of Tennessee. The report was commissioned by the American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF) who the ethanol industry is saying is in the front pocket of Big Oil.

ethanol pump“Clearly this study was published with an agenda and without regard to the facts. It is misleading, inaccurate and runs counter to a large body of expert research,” said Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis. “Slapping a new title on this previously discredited research won’t change the facts, and those who published this study clearly have little interest in doing anything other than maintaining the status quo of our dangerous addiction to foreign oil and fossil fuels.”

One area the report attempts to “debunk” is the environmental benefits of ethanol going so far as to say that with the exception of CO2 reductions, corn-based ethanol is worse than Big Oil. However, Argonne National Laboratory, along with dozens of other independent studies, have shown the opposite. For example, a recent study by the University of Illinois-Chicago’s Energy Resource Center concluded that the EPA’s RFS proposal to decrease ethanol use by 1.6 billion gallons in 2015 could increase CO2 emissions by 4,520,000 metric tons that year.

Buis says, “The facts are clear….ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by an average of 34 percent compared to gasoline, even when the highly controversial and disputed theory of Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) is factored into the modeling. Furthermore, Argonne has found that without ILUC included, ethanol reduces GHG emissions by 57 percent compared to gasoline.”

Another are the report attacks ethanol is with regards to subsidies saying since the 80s they have been in the billions. While the report did acknowledge that first generation subsidies were phased out several years ago, it did not acknowledge that the oil industry has been receiving subsidies and tax breaks for more than 100 years – a practice that continues today. In fact, it’s about $5 billion per year and hundreds of billions globally.

Geoff Cooper, senior vice president with the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) says in response to the report, “Over the past decade the Renewable Fuel Standard has proven time and time again why it is our nation’s most successful energy policy. “Its impact on our nation’s energy security, economy, and environment is unmatched. The RFS was passed by a bi-partisan Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush with the goal of ensuring that biofuels have a place in a market that is overwhelmingly and unfairly dominated by Big Oil.”

“At the end of the day, added Cooper, “the biggest winner, with respect to the RFS, has been our nation’s consumers who have been given more affordable choices at the pump, and have also been provided with a safe, clean source of home-grown energy.”

Will Steger Wilderness Center Renewable Showcase

Will Steger, a globally renowned climate expert, has announced a major milestone toward the completion of the Will Steger Wilderness Center, that will be used as a leadership retreat center. The facility now features a stand-alone, carbon free power system that will provide electricity to buildings and workshops throughout the site located outside of Ely, Minnesota near the protected Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). The renewable power system is an extension of the Center’s focus on clean energy and the use of renewable materials and sustainable processes throughout its operation.

Photo Credit: John Ratzloff

Photo Credit: John Ratzloff

The island-mode power grid will also serve as a demonstration project intended to be a model for other off-grid power systems in remote locations.  With the completion of Phase I of this power grid, the system is now capable of providing up to 20 kilowatts of power from a combination of solar and battery sources with solar providing more than half of the energy. The system includes automated demand management capability to provide power for mission-critical functions along with a backup diesel genset for emergencies. It is designed to provide power for multiple buildings on the site and power for the construction finalization of the main retreat center building. The first pilot leadership team is expected to use the center by the fall of 2016.

A launch event will take place October 7, 2015 at the Will Steger Wilderness Center and will include a ceremonial flip of the switch to ‘power-on’ the system by key participants who have provided both technical and material resources. Cummins Power Generation provided the genset and helped in the technical design and feasibility study in the early stages of the project. Other partners include Jon Kramer, CEO of Sundial Solar; Dr. Greg Mowry, associate professor in the School of Engineering at the University of St. Thomas; tenKsolar; and BAE Batteries. Participants in the demonstration project have donated the vast majority of the material and labor for the system.

“This is an exciting time for all those who have worked to demonstrate that it is possible to have a community working with modern technology in a remote wilderness area using only self-contained and renewable energy sources,” said Will Steger, executive director of the Will Steger Wilderness Center. “The completion of the power grid is also a leap forward toward our goal of bringing leaders to a fully functioning wilderness retreat center to work on complex issues such as climate change and sustainability. We’re grateful to all of the contributors to this project who are demonstrating that it is possible to live and work on real-world problems using sustainable practices that will not deplete scarce resources.”

In addition to its future purpose as a leadership retreat center, the Will Steger Wilderness Center has been the base for more than a dozen significant expeditions including the 3,471 mile International Trans-Antarctic expedition, the first unsupported dogsled expedition to the North Pole and many other expeditions that have brought back some of the earliest eyewitness accounts of climate change in remote arctic regions.

WiSER Encourges More Women in Energy

Many initiatives were launched during the United Nations General Assembly in New York City including the launch of the Women in Sustainability, Environment and Renewable energy (WiSER) Initiative. Founded by Abu Dhabil’s-based Masdar, a renewable energy company, and the Zayed Future Energy Prize, the goal is to empower women to be catalysts of innovation and the drivers of solutions to combat issues potentially aggravated by climate change including the need for renewable energy, clean water and access to food.

“As vital members of society, women are essential to building stronger and healthier economies. Nowhere is this need more important than in achieving a sustainable economic, environmental and energy future,” said Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, United Arab Emirates Minister of State Chairman of Masdar. “WiSER aims to be both a platform for dialogue, new thinking and thought-provoking ideas, as well as a pathway for women to gain real-world experience and to build the skills necessary to be leaders of industry, and drivers of commercial solutions.”

wiser_launch__cloudDuring the launch event at the Plaza Hotel, leadership from Masdar and the Zayed Future Energy Prize unveiled key elements of the WiSER initiative designed to promote the important role that women play in industries related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). WiSER also announced that the group will convene regularly in cities around the world to encourage participation in these fields.

“The WiSER initiative plays a critical role in connecting networks and building relationships across different communities to improve decision-making for sustainable development,” said Razan Al Mubarak, Secretary General of the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD). “To meet the challenges facing the global economy, women must occupy more decision making roles in government, engineering and science in order to meet our needs.”

WiSER will partner with academic and research institutions, women’s networking groups and corporate interests in to create education and training opportunities. Masdar and the Zayed Future Energy Prize also announced the members of the WiSER Advisory Council, who will oversee the implementation of the programs under the WiSER Initiative. The Advisory Council will serve as a global reference for the initiative on women’s leadership and careers in sustainability, particularly related to energy, water and climate change.

Wind Industry Commits to Reducing Bat Fatalities

The U.S. wind energy industry has announced a commitment to reduce bat fatalities caused by wind turbines by 30 percent or more. The news came leading up to National Wildlife Day and is an agreement between the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and 17 member companies. The agreement involves wind operators’ voluntarily limiting the operations of turbines in low-wind speed conditions during the fall bat migration season when research shows bats are most at risk. The new protocols are based on over 10 years of research by the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative (BWEC) and others.

dreamstime_xs_22720312“The adoption of this protocol to reduce impacts to bats is a continuation of our legacy of care for wildlife and the environment,” said Tom Kiernan, CEO of AWEA. “American wind power is strongly committed to producing one of the safest and cleanest forms of energy, for people and wildlife. As we continue to strive to make the wind industry’s impacts as low as possible, we hope this step can serve to encourage other energy industries, and all businesses for that matter, to proactively take steps to reduce their impacts on the environment in their respective communities.”

AWEA said in a statement that despite the potential collective loss of millions of dollars in electric generation, the U.S. wind energy industry has voluntarily committed to changing how turbines are operated during the bats’ fall migration season, slowing blade rotations to fewer than 1-3 revolutions a minute, depending on blade length, thereby reducing the risk of collision. On-the-ground research over the past decade at a number of operating wind farms has shown this measures will significantly reduce the collision risk for bats in low wind speed conditions when they are most at risk. The expected reduction of overall bat impacts was calculated with data from the research by BWEC and the conservation and academic communities who worked with the industry to identify solutions.

“That this industry-wide best practice has been voluntarily adopted demonstrates how the U.S. wind energy industry holds itself to a higher standard,” said John Anderson, senior director, permitting policy and environmental affairs, for AWEA. “Our industry values all wildlife and habitat. By proactively employing this measure to reduce our already low environmental impacts further, consumers can have even more confidence in buying clean, affordable, and carbon-free wind energy.”

Representatives from the conservation community applauded the action taken by the industry. “Through common sense practices and a proactive spirit by the wind industry, it’s clear we can both move the nation toward a clean energy future, and protect wildlife,” said Collin O’Mara, President and CEO, National Wildlife Federation of the announcement.

This year, National Wildlife Day was celebrated on September 4th.