By on April 24, 2014

Ethanol plant

Earlier this week, the Environmental Protection Agency put in place 2013 requirements for cellulosic ethanol for automotive use in the United States at 810,000 gallons, an amount far short of the 1 billion gallons Congress desired seven years earlier when the Renewable Fuel Standard Act came into force.

The Detroit News reports production of the fuel has fallen short of expectations, prompting the agency to set required production for 2013 to what was actually produced “due to the reduced estimate of anticipated cellulosic biofuel production in 2013 that was announced shortly after EPA signed its final rule by one of two companies expected to produce cellulosic biofuel in 2013.”

The reduction comes on the heels of a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals in favor of the American Petroleum Institute, stating the EPA had overstepped its authority by mandating refiners buy more fuel — 17 million gallons for this year alone — than what was produced. API official Bob Greco applauded the decision, calling upon the agency to base future mandates on reality instead of prognostication:

EPA should base its cellulosic mandates on actual production rather than projections that — year after year — have fallen far short of reality. For four years running, biofuel producers have promised high cellulosic ethanol production that hasn’t happened. EPA must also reconsider its unrealistic proposal to mandate 17 million gallons of cellulosic biofuels for 2014.

Despite lower production numbers and delays in bringing ethanol refineries online, the Obama administration is pushing ahead with the RFS, which requires 21 billion gallons of biofuel — including 16 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol — to be in use annually as a way to wean the nation’s dependency on foreign oil resources.

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52 Comments on “EPA Sets Lower 2013 Cellulosic Ethanol Use Requirement...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    While artificially keeping food and fuel prices up through its use…

    • 0 avatar
      NotFast

      I am not sure you are correct: Cellulosic ethanol is derived from grasses and other non-edible “junk”. I’m not sure these sources would compete with food crops. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cellulosic_ethanol

      • 0 avatar
        abhi

        Correct me if i’m mistaken .. but you’re thinking about it the wrong way. It’s derived from things that are junk but grown on arable land.. so in essence land that could be used for foodstuffs has now been converted for fuel. I think this is the same for the corn etc grown for fuel they’re not varieties you use for food. I think this is one of the most repulsive things that we can do .. to save a few cents on gas you increase the base price of food / meat/ corn products.. many other things. It makes no sense from an economic standpoint.

        • 0 avatar
          Drzhivago138

          Miscanthus and other sources of cellulosic ethanol can be grown on land unsuitable for anything else.

        • 0 avatar
          bryanska

          The main benefit of cellulosic is that you can use land that isn’t arable enough for crops. So sandy fields, roadside strips, empty lots… the dream (and it’s feasible) is to Mr. Fusion all the cellulose we discard every day.

        • 0 avatar

          > to save a few cents on gas you increase the base price of food / meat/ corn products..

          Prices on commodities these days are far more predicated on market speculation than fundamentals.

          The irony is that there’s a lot of dollars out there chasing after fewer good “investments”.

        • 0 avatar
          TW5

          Cellulosic ethanol is made from biomass. After the food is harvested, the plant biomass is used to make fuel. It has very little net impact on arable land usage, and since very few food plants are green manures, fuel from biomass industry is not doing much to the soil structure either.

          When the plants rot, they release CO2. Cellulosic fuels are just a way of extracting more work from the carbon cycle, while reducing oil imports. If biomass fuel has a drawback, it could be fresh water consumption.

        • 0 avatar
          johnny ro

          Plus which you don’t save anything on the gas.

          However the day ethanol becomes free, we will be better positioned to distribute and use it because of the system in place now.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        If I am not mistaken, a government-sponsored study recently found that cellulosic ethanol was CO2 emission net positive. In other words, like the other ethanol, its production and use does not result in lower CO2 emissions than petroleum.

        In short, another little group that gets a government subsidy and lobbies for tax and/or consumer dollars at the public’s general expense.

        • 0 avatar
          Hummer

          It would take an expensive govt study to figure out what is considered common sense.
          Fuel for –
          Tractor trailer bring seeds, tractor trailer in fields being driven along loading fuel(corn etc), tractor trailer taking fuel to be processed, tractor trailer taking fuel to be mixed with petro, tractor trailer taking fuel to consumer
          Tractor tilling up land, tractor spraying multiple chemicals, tractor harvesting land, tractor turning over land before winter
          And then there’s everything else;
          To plant the land your turning over weeds and every non crop growing releasing CO2 as it decays, then after picking corn all the corn stalks decay…. Releasing CO2, and then anything that grows between then and getting disk harrowed also gets turned into CO2.
          Burning fuel for the pumps to water the field, production of chemicals/gathering manure fuel use. Fuel farmer uses fixing tractor and all the associated fixes that inevitably happen and take fuel and manufacturing.

          Sounds like a real winner that’s going to save our environment.

          • 0 avatar
            YellowDuck

            Sorry, but this is a complex subject and you can’t dismiss the idea with this kind of “common sense” argument. Quantitatively, you have no idea what you are talking about. Most of the energy inputs you mentioned are a tiny fraction of the total energy balance. Even with grain ethanol 2/3 of the energy use is in the ethanol plant, not in farming, transport, producing agricultural inputs (fertilizer) etc. With cellulosic ethanol than number is even higher.

            Also, when weeds decay, where do you think that CO2 came from, ultimately? Answer: from the atmosphere as the weeds grew. All of it. 100%. Decaying weeds have zero net carbon emissions. The tillage might release carbon from the soil if soil organic matter is decreasing over time, but with modern no-till farming practices soil OM levels are more stable than they used to be. Finally, much cellulosic ethanol is produced from perennial grasses (miscanthus, switchgrass) which require no tillage whatsoever after initial establishment.

            Folksy common sense is no substitute for actual knowledge.

          • 0 avatar
            Drzhivago138

            @Hummer: If you’ve got an idea proven to be better that doesn’t involve continued payments to oil companies, I’m all ears.

            @YellowDuck: Thank you for being the voice of reason and defending a highly unpopular position.

          • 0 avatar

            > If you’ve got an idea proven to be better that doesn’t involve continued payments to oil companies, I’m all ears.

            The actual trade-off on the ground is that our public employer of last resort is using its resources unproductively (essentially security/protection business for suppliers, often foreign ones).

            However, the way it’s successfully marketed to simpletons (Murica!) somehow makes this more appealing than solving real problems.

            The day of reckon predicated on physical reality is gradually upon us in the next generation or two, and all these idiots ever want to talk about is gubmint this socialist that.

        • 0 avatar
          YellowDuck

          Net CO2 positive does not mean no better than petroleum – it means there are some net CO2 emissions (which is inevitable since at least some fossil fuels are used to produce cellulosic ethanol). But cellulosic ethanol has a much better lifecycle carbon balance than petroleum. Grain ethanol doesn’t look quite as good, especially if the ethanol plant runs on coal – but most estimates still place it better than petroleum for lifecycle net CO2 emissions.

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          “If I am not mistaken…”

          It would seem that a lot of the politically-oriented media have distorted the findings.

          http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/plugged-in/2014/04/21/corn-waste-biofuels-might-be-worse-than-gasoline-in-the-short-term/

          The study found that there are net GHG emissions reductions over a 10 year window. But over a shorter window, there aren’t, which would disqualify it from subsidies.

          That doesn’t make corn stover ideal for ethanol production, but let’s not distort what was actually said.

        • 0 avatar
          TW5

          The point of cellulosic ethanol is not lower CO2 emissions. Cellulosic biofuels are mainly about domestic production and reducing US oil imports.

          • 0 avatar
            Drzhivago138

            Which is both a more realistic goal and a nobler one, so I truly cannot understand why people would hinder it for the sake of “muh performance.”

          • 0 avatar
            TW5

            @Drzhivago138

            Most people are complainers; however, ethanol blending has some fundamental flaws, particularly it’s relative inefficiency compared to other fuels and combustion-strategies. Substitution for blending is 1 unit ethanol replaces .7 units gasoline. If E85 is injected into the cylinder with gasoline, 1 unit of ethanol replaces 5 units of gasoline, according to the SAE study on the subject. Blending is the most convenient policy, but it’s not easy to get excited about it.

        • 0 avatar
          Drzhivago138

          @u mad scientist: Which side are you promoting? I want to think it’s “mine” (gotta be careful about “us vs. them” labeling), but I can’t be sure. And if that makes me an idiot, well, I guess I’m an idiot.

          • 0 avatar

            > Which side are you promoting?

            If you’re referring to this comment:

            http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/epa-sets-lower-2013-cellulosic-ethanol-use-requirement/#comment-3145210

            then the point is that instead of discussing the marginal value of massive public expenses like the military to protect/stabilize friendly oil-producing regimes, it’s instead proffered as an overriding moral good.

            If there’s two sides here, it’s folks who see things as they are, and others who believe the feelings in their head (or gut as they call it) are the real world.

        • 0 avatar
          FormerFF

          There were some assumptions made in that study that are not generally agreed upon to be valid. The biomass in question (corn stalks) apparently have other uses as well.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Thx for the link.

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      I am slowly coming realize what a truly insane world we live in. We are surrounded by contradiction and hypocrisy.
      We are scolded about how we waste food…then these very same insane fools force us to BURN our food in our cars and trucks.

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        Can you provide any concrete evidence that 1. Sources of cellulosic ethanol are even edible by humans and 2. That prices of any food have been driven up explicitly by ethanol use?

        • 0 avatar

          Point 1 is obviously untrue, but point 2 is technically true in the case of maybe corn.

          However, technically true includes meaninglessly true. The reality is food costs are controlled largely by the amount of speculative money in the commodities market: put twice as much money into an inelastic supply good and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happens.

          Fractional percentages due to using some corn for fuel instead of food is completely irrelevant in comparison.

          • 0 avatar
            TrailerTrash

            I was referring to “corn”. Is this not grown by farmers? and for..I dunno…food?
            If I am wrong…please…just so i am educated…is not ethanol made from corn or sugar? I might have missed it, but I thought it was.
            is corn not used in food production…from animal feed to corn starches and sugars?

            “Fuel Properties

            Ethanol (CH3CH2OH) is a clear, colorless liquid. It is also known as ethyl alcohol, grain alcohol, and EtOH. (See Fuel Properties search.) Ethanol has the same chemical formula regardless of whether it is produced from starch- and sugar-based feedstocks, such as corn grain (as it primarily is in the United States), sugar cane (as it primarily is in Brazil), or from cellulosic feedstocks (such as wood chips or crop residues).”

          • 0 avatar
            Drzhivago138

            @TrailerTrash: The headline of this article, and the topic of 95% of the discussion here, was “cellulosic ethanol”–which refers to either ethanol produced from “non-traditional” sources like Miscanthus or other grasses, or from the “waste” portions of the corn plant, the stover.

            Yes, corn is used in both food/feed and ethanol production, but the sources of most cellulosic ethanol and most food/feed are mutually exclusive.

          • 0 avatar
            TrailerTrash

            Drzhivago138
            yes…I know the headline. that wasn’t the point, or my point. I was just making a statement on the state of affairs.
            Soooooo…I still stand by my saddened position of our precious food being used to burn in our damn cars….which happens at a ridiculously high percentage of total corn production.
            So what is up with your nitpicking?

        • 0 avatar
          TW5

          Sugar and corn prices have been driven up by ethanol use, but cellulosic production requires no edible food stock.

          Look at the trend in sugar prices as Brazilian flex fuel vehicles jumped from 20% market share in 2004 to about 90% market share today. UN isn’t happy about it. No telling how much forest has been clear cut to grow more sugar cane.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            True, cellulosic production does not, but it seems the amounts needed from such production are unattainable. The original target per the article was a billion gallons and the mandated amount was 810,000 gallons. Unless the 810 figure is a typo on the part of the referenced article, this means not even 1% of the original goal was achieved. Then we find out 22% of the “record” corn supply will be used for ethanol. So unless ethanol demand falls in 2014 at current levels we are putting 22% of the potential “record” food crop into gasoline. If demand remains the same in 2015 and the crop production decreases, the percentage of corn will increase thus impacting food prices even more than the 22% already is doing. I also find it interesting that E10 being formulated 10% ethanol although the MTBE it replaced represented less than 5% of gasoline. Brazil’s success notwithstanding, ethanol in the US is and always was a bad idea which pandered to special interest groups (environmentalists and corn lobby) and artificially increased the price of food staples.

            “On a net basis, 22 percent of the record 2013 corn supply will be used for ethanol.”

            http://ethanolproducer.com/articles/10438/ethanol-industry-examines-implications-of-record-corn-crop

          • 0 avatar
            TrailerTrash

            28-Cars-Later…exactly. regardless of the headline and the goodwill idiocy behind the actions…it is all nutty and depressing.
            why have the prices of corn been driven up? because it is being used as fuel.
            for our cars n trucks of all things. burning food instead of eating it …is s t u p i d.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            On an inflation-adjusted basis, the price of corn today is about half of what it was in 1975.

            If the stuff was scarce, then it wouldn’t be used by every major food producer in America as a cheap sweetener.

            In any case, the cellulosic ethanol discussed above is made of the inedible plant material, not of the part of corn that you eat. If it wasn’t made into fuel, then it would just be mixed in with the soil.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            @TT

            Other than pandering the corn lobby, I honestly am not sure. I do recall reading about food riots in Mexico, Egypt, and other parts of Africa after ethanol went into effect in 2007 maybe? Perhaps the intent was to price the third world out of the food market? Heaven knows all of the folks in CONUS will be issued EBT cards if they can’t afford staples and everyone else will simply absorb the artificially high prices.

            @pch101

            You are correct on the biomass being turned into ethanol or mixed into soil. But they evidently can’t produce enough of it otherwise 22% of corn would not be turned into ethanol.

          • 0 avatar

            > Perhaps the intent was to price the third world out of the food market?

            As a general tip, people with the wherewithal to get power/money don’t waste their effort to spite the poor or any other tarded conspiracy theories, since it’s better spent getting more money or power as their track record would imply.

            High food prices are a byproduct of the commodities bubble inflated with money leaving housing. Apparently the marginal utility of inelastic desires like food or fuel is ill defined and balloon nicely for making money off volatility.

            Corn ethanol is similarly a byproduct of the US constitution’s archaic senate misrepresentation for the corn states. Congressfolk are in the business of trading pork for power.

          • 0 avatar
            TrailerTrash

            u mad…
            the money from the housing bubble wasn’t moved…it was lost. gone. busted.
            folks, like myself, saw our savings just vanish.
            Those, like myself who saw the value in our homes vanish, will not get it back…not for a very long time.
            But we didn’t move it over to commodities market. We lost it.

            and yes…it is all pandering to the farm lobbyist and as such farmers are going with the profit corn and not other plantings. Did not somebody above show 22% of corn grown is made into fuel?
            Is not 22% not a number you accept as being influential on the market price? Is that not a crazy amount of your food base to use as fuel?
            I think I am going nuts with this discussion.

          • 0 avatar

            > folks, like myself, saw our savings just vanish. Those, like myself who saw the value in our homes vanish, will not get it back…not for a very long time.

            Sure, *your* sucker money from jumping in at the peak is gone, but not the money used to pump up these bubbles in the first place.

            Btw, that house value will likely never come back back since inflation-adjusted home prices in the US is historically flat.

            If you’re curious how this works, read the dozen or so the posts below this: http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/qotd-in-defense-of-the-toyota-camry/#comment-3148050

  • avatar
    Hummer

    Well I’ll take some good news.
    Better mpg, less engine problems, and of course less money, good stuff.

    Now if we can get regular gas cans legalized vs the high spill crap mandated today.

  • avatar
    Tinn-Can

    So… more fudging the numbers and arbitrary goalpost moving by the Chicago mafia? Color me shocked…

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Finally, a decision that makes sense.

  • avatar
    TW5

    Mixed bag. Blending is an inefficient use of ethanol fuel, but reducing ethanol blending standards leads to higher consumptive oil imports. Several companies have invested large sums of money to produce cellulosic fuels, and now the government has reversed policies that were ill-fated from the outset.

    More incompetence all the time.

  • avatar
    69firebird

    Maybe stop exporting such a large amount of oil from the U.S. ,if there’s such a concern about us consuming “foreign oil.”

  • avatar
    chuckrs

    So the gubmint wanted the equivalent of 65000 barrels per day, but had to back off to 53 barrels per day? Surely somebody at the EPA will get a raise or bonus for aligning their requirements to reality so precisely.

    edit – I have no problem with pilot plant/R&D production levels. My problem is with the DC dimwits who think they can conjure reality from wishful thinking.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    I actually wonder if we will see this with CAFE standards eventually. When the goal is set impossibly high, and people don’t want to buy a Golf sized car with a million fuel saving doo-dads attached that cost $60k and break at 50k miles, maybe the epa will back off.

    Unfortunately by that time how many billions or trillions of wasted dollars will have been lost, or companies that have gone under chasing uneconomic goals?

    Maybe it won’t matter because we will just make the public pay for it… Or just print the money?

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      The CAFE standards aren’t as ridiculous as most people think. CAFE mpg is not the same as EPA mpg. The current crop of cars that get 40 mpg hwy are very close to the CAFE 54 mpg requirement.

  • avatar
    redav

    I don’t really mind incentives for cellulosic ethanol. I do have a problem with ethanol from corn.

    I’m a bit surprised no one has mentioned the fight over E15. I personally believe that isn’t about emissions/pollution, but rather an outlet to dump more ethanol into the market. Mandates for making & using more ethanol mean it has to go somewhere, and since E85 hasn’t caught on, E15 would be that channel.

    Regardless of mandates, I strongly believe that the regions that produce ethanol should be the primary markets for it, e.g., use it for farm machinery. (Another example is Coors. They use non-food grade, waste grain products to make ethanol. They–and their neighbors–should acquire equipment that runs specifically on that ethanol.) I believe if E85 is going to exist, it should be used in high compression ratio engines designed to run on only that fuel instead of being flex fuel. Concentrating its use would better justify manufacturing such engines. If people believe ethanol can be a significant part of our energy portfolio, then demonstrate it locally rather than across the whole nation.


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