EPA dramatically scales back ethanol mandates

The GAfuels Blog is written by two private pilots concerned about the future availability of fuels for piston-engine aircraft: Dean Billing, Sisters, Ore., an expert on autogas and ethanol, and Kent Misegades, Cary, N.C., an aerospace engineer, aviation sales rep for U-Fuel, and president of EAA1114.

The EPA has once again been forced to face reality and scale back its original, unachievable mandates for cellulosic (non-corn) ethanol production, which is supposed to eventually replace much of corn-based ethanol in the US.

According the magazine Ethanol Producer, “For the third year in a row, the U.S. EPA is proposing to slash the expected volume of cellulosic biofuels to be produced in the coming year. The agency proposed its 2012 renewable fuel standard (RFS) volume targets on June 21, unsurprisingly suggesting that the original 500 million gallon cellulosic biofuel target, set in 2007, should be slashed to a volume ranging from 3.45 million gallons (3.55 million ethanol-equivalent gallons) to 12.9 million gallons (15.7 million ethanol-equivalent gallons). In 2010, the first year cellulosic biofuel production was included in the RFS, the EPA reduced the initial 100 million gallon cellulosic target to 6.5 million ethanol-equivalent gallons. This year, the 250 million gallon target was reduced to just 6 million ethanol-equivalent gallons. Actual amounts of cellulosic biofuels produced in the past two years have come nowhere close to the volume requirements. “

GAfuels co-author Dean Billing, a recognized authority on America’s biofuels policies, comments on this latest admission by the EPA of its wildly over-optimistic forecasts: “If the EPA doesn’t reduce the total RFS mandates for ethanol production, it will probably allow the corn producers to make up the difference from the shortfall in cellulosic, but then the reality is they will hit the blending wall even earlier than expected.

“The math is interesting:  If the total renewable fuel volume is 15.2 billion gallons and 1 billion gallons of that is biomass diesel, then the ethanol quota is 14.2 billion gallons, of which 500 million was supposed to be cellulosic, leaving 500 million of “advanced” biofuel which could be biomass ethanol or some “advanced” biodiesel, whatever that is. Let’s say the diesel producers don’t want to, or can’t do an additional 500 million gallons of “advanced” biodiesel, then the ethanol producers will have to step in, probably with a proposal to make corn ethanol from new plants that they want designated “advanced” biofuel production facilities.  If that is the case, then ethanol production will be 14.2 billion gallons, which will completely swamp the gasoline pool.  If they pull the 500 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol out, that is still 13.7 billion gallons of ethanol which will just take the gasoline pool completely E10.

“Either way, 2012 is shaping up to be the blending wall year, no way around it, and the key question is what is the EPA going to do about cellulosic ethanol as 2015 gets closer?  It is the holy grail of ethanol production from 2015 on, since corn ethanol is then capped.  Of course the corn ethanol cap is way over the amount needed to take all gasoline E10.  Wonder when they are going to start making E85 like they were supposed too, according to the EISA 2007 Act that includes the RFS mandates?”

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