Since corn-based ethanol began coming under attack for a wide variety of negative environmental and social impacts, the renewable fuels industry has sought to cover the sins of its corn juice gravy train with a coat of “advanced biofuel” greenwash. Accordingly, the ethanol blending mandate (from the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA)) has included requirements for cellulosic and non-corn-derived biofuels which the industry says will replace corn… eventually. Unfortunately it seems that “eventually” is going to take longer than was expected, as the EPA has already slashed the 2010 mandate for advanced biofuel blending from 100m gallons to 6.5m gallons. And today the EPA announced rules for the 2011 advanced biofuel blending goal, and once again the non-corn fuels are getting the short end of the stick.
The new goal is as follows:
Biomass-based diesel (0.80 billion gallons; 0.68 percent)
Advanced biofuels (1.35 billion gallons; 0.77 percent)
Cellulosic biofuels (5 – 17.1 million gallons; 0.004 – 0.015 percent)
Total renewable fuels (13.95 billion gallons; 7.95 percent)
The new goal allows for a range of cellulosic biofuel production of between 5m gallons and 17.1m gallons. That means that it’s possible that next year’s cellulosic biofuel blending level could actually be lower than this year’s 6.5m target. The overall blending level for all renewable fuels next year is now set at 7.95 percent (13.95b gallons), down from 8.25 percent.
Why the reduction in renewable biofuel mandates, especially cellulosic ethanol which can be made from waste biomass? According to the EPA’s release
Based on analysis of market availability, EPA is proposing a 2011 cellulosic volume that is lower than the EISA target. EPA will continue to evaluate the market as it works to finalize the cellulosic standard in the coming months. Overall, EPA remains optimistic that the commercial availability of cellulosic biofuel will continue to grow in the years ahead.
Not that market demand (or lack thereof) has ever stopped the government from subsidizing corn-based ethanol. In fact, sales of E85 are so low that renewable fuel lobbyists worry that the so-called “blend wall” which prevents the blending of more than 10 percent ethanol in regular gasoline will hurt cellulosic and corn-based ethanol producers alike. But even the lobbyists from the Renewable Fuels Association admit that this drop in cellulosic biofuel blending goals will hurt the struggling industry, telling BusinessWeek
While this may be prudent for EPA based on market conditions, it does send a chilling effect through the investment community with respect to cellulosic ethanol technologies
And since the overall biofuel blending mandate hasn’t gone down, the cellulosic ethanol industry’s loss is the corn ethanol industry’s gain… even though the whole point of biofuel subsidies is to promote environmentally responsible options (weak demand hasn’t stopped subsidies for corn ethanol or electric cars). With 36b gallons of biofuel mandated by 2020 but no government support available for the struggling cellulosic and advanced biofuel industry, there’s little doubt but that corn ethanol will continue to benefit heavily from the EISA mandate. And until such time as renewable biofuels start receiving extra help (or the corn ethnaol industry is cut off from its flow of federal cheddar), the US will be no closer to a widely-available, environmentally-responsible gasoline alternative.