The ethanol industry is challenging a new report from the National Academies of Science that questions the ability of the biofuels industry to meet current goals under the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS2) and the ability of biofuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the report, production of conventional biofuels and biomass-based diesel fuel will be adequate to meet the requirements of the RFS2, but whether the mandate for cellulosic ethanol can be met is “uncertain.”
“The capacity to meet the renewable fuel mandate for cellulosic biofuels will not be available unless the production process is unexpectedly improved and technologies are scaled up and undergo several commercial-scale demonstrations in the next few years. Additionally, policy uncertainties and high costs of production may deter investors from aggressive deployment, even though the government guarantees a market for cellulosic biofuels up to the level of the consumption mandate, regardless of price.”
Brooke Coleman, executive director of the Advanced Ethanol Council (AEC) agrees that technological innovation and policy uncertainty are major hurdles for meeting the RFS2 goals for advanced biofuels. “The RFS is an aggressive, technology-forcing standard that needs complementary policy to be achieved, in much the same way that oil companies rely on a bevy of tax breaks and subsidies to protect the investments necessary to bring new sources of petroleum fuels online as known oil reserves become increasingly scarce,” said Coleman. “If we enact policies reflective of the goals set forth in the RFS, the advanced biofuels industry will emerge and the RFS targets will be met.”
“You can read this report in a number of ways because the conclusions are based on variables that will undoubtedly change with technological advancements and innovation within the industry,” said Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis. “A continued commitment to the RFS will create the market certainty that is crucial for both first generation and second generation ethanol. But any effort to doubt or dismantle the RFS would block the growth of the industry and ultimately threaten American jobs, our environment and our energy security.”
Also “uncertain” according to the report is the “extent to which using biofuels rather than petroleum will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” “The idea that the RFS may not be an effective strategy to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions is regrettable given the published science on the subject,” said Coleman. “Even with land use change considerations, advanced biofuels are the lowest carbon fuels being developed in the marketplace; far and away less carbon intensive than electricity, natural gas and even hydrogen fuel cells.”