Last year the U.S. produced 11.1 billion gallons of biofuel. Obama's new plan states that by 2022, 21 billion gallons of renewable fuels will need to come from so-called advanced biofuels.
[There are few people with a better grasp on the politics, business and science of biofuels than Gas 2.0 editor, Nick Chambers. In light of new biofuels guidelines released yesterday by the Obama administration, I asked Nick if he could break down the new rules, EPA's analysis and what it all means for the future of biofuels. -TH]
This decision has been a long time in coming. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) actually started the whole process. Until now, however, the strategy to get to the goals set forth in the EISA were terribly murky. With yesterday's announcement, the Obama Administration has set clear goals to achieving the required 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022. Last year the U.S. produced 11.1 billion gallons of biofuels. The new plan announced today states that by 2022, 21 billion gallons of renewable fuels will need to come from so-called advanced biofuels—biofuels that have at least a 50% reduction in GHG emissions when compared to their gas and diesel counterparts.
In addition to the 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels, requirements set forth by EISA dictated that any new renewable fuel facility constructed after enactment of EISA had to have at least a 20% reduction in GHG emissions when calculated on a lifecycle, cradle-to-grave basis—this includes any new corn ethanol facilities.
EPA's new data and analysis show that modern corn ethanol facilities powered by natural gas, biomass, or biogas that use advanced technologies and use corn that is grown using modern methods will meet the 20% reduction criteria on a lifecycle basis. This sounds plausible to me, especially considering the thorough analysis by EPA using the best available models and data. EPA also took into consideration over a thousand pages of public comment and has asked the National Academies of Sciences to review its methodology. Based on what I've read, I do think the EPA has done the most thorough analysis of lifecycle emissions to date.
What this means, however, is that the roughly 10 billion gallons of biofuels that are currently made in the U.S. with older technologies do not have to meet the 20% GHG reduction criteria. Biofuels made at those facilities may or may not be any better for the environment than their gasoline and diesel counterparts. Some of them are corn ethanol facilities that are powered by coal electricity—which means, according to EPA data, they produce 34% more GHG pollution than their gasoline counterparts. These facilities will continue to exist until such time as they are replaced by newer facilities or the laws change to force retrofits.
So, in 2022, if the Renewable Fuels Standard can be implemented successfully and 36 billion gallons of biofuels are being produced, roughly 21 billion gallons (58%) of them will be "advanced" with a 50% reduction in GHG, 5 billion gallons (14%) of them will be EISA mandated to have at least a 20% reduction in GHG, and 10 billion gallons (28%) of them will be of the older type with questionable environmental benefit. To me, 28% is still a large amount of our total biofuels to be of questionable environmental benefit. Continued...