U.S. Renewable Fuels Standard Going Up

WASHINGTON, DC, February 12, 2008 (ENS) – The amount of ethanol and biodiesel Americans burn in their cars and trucks is increasing by law. The 2008 renewable fuels standard will be raised to 7.76 percent, nearly doubling the current standard of of 4.66 percent to comply with the new energy bill enacted late last year.

The increase is in response to the Energy Independence and Security Act, which President George W. Bush signed in December.

Last November, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, announced a renewable fuels standard of 4.66 percent based on previous law that mandated at least 5.4 billion gallons of renewable fuels be blended into the nation’s transportation fuels this year.

The number of E85 pumps across the
midwest is increasing. (Photo courtesy
National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition)

But now the EPA is raising the standard to 7.76 percent to comply with the new minimum of 9.0 billion gallons of renewable fuel that the Energy Independence and Security Act requires.

The act increases the overall volume of renewable fuels that must be blended each year, reaching 36 billion gallons in 2022.

To achieve these volumes, EPA annually calculates the percentage-based standard, which applies to refiners, importers and non-oxygenate blenders of gasoline. Based on the standard, each of these parties determines the minimum volume of renewable fuel that it must use.

About half of the gasoline used today in the United States is blended with ethanol at levels of up to 10 percent by volume, called E10. Ethanol blends at higher volumes, such as 85 percent, or E85, are available in some areas for use in flexible-fuel vehicles.

According to a national poll released in October 2007 by the Renewable Fuels Now Coalition, 74 percent of Americans queried believe the use of domestically produced renewable fuels like ethanol should be increased.

In addition, 87 percent of respondents maintain the federal government should actively support the development of a U.S. renewable fuels industry, and 77 percent think Congress should encourage oil refiners to blend more ethanol into their gasoline products.

“By overwhelming margins, Americans want renewable fuels like ethanol to play a larger role in our nation’s energy future,” said Renewable Fuels Association President Bob Dinneen, a member of the Renewable Fuels Now Coalition. “The consequences of continuing our dependence on foreign oil are unacceptable. Renewable fuels like ethanol offer our nation an opportunity to go in a new, more sustainable energy direction.”

The EPA estimates the cost to produce a gallon of ethanol-blended gasoline will rise between 0.5 and 1.1 cents. However, because ethanol receives a tax credit, EPA says consumers might actually see a net savings at the pump of 0.4 to 0.7 cents per gallon.

Under typical operating conditions, there should be no noticeable impact on overall power or performance when using 10 percent ethanol blends, the EPA said. Fuel economy will be reduced with ethanol blends because ethanol has about two-thirds of the energy content of gasoline.

The EPA estimates that the renewable fuels standard program will cut petroleum use by up to 3.9 billion gallons and greenhouse gas emissions by up to 13.1 million metric tons annually by 2012 – the equivalent of eliminating the greenhouse-gas emissions of 2.3 million cars.

Fueling with an E85 ethanol blend
(Photo courtesy Panda Ethanol)

Ford and General Motors announced at the Chicago Auto Show that each will team with ethanol producer VeraSun Energy Corp. on projects intended to mainstream the use of E85. The two automakers hope to increase the number of E85 pumps at gas stations.

Ford’s plans with VeraSun, the country’s second largest ethanol producer, entail creating a Midwest ethanol corridor by increasing the number of E85 pumps by 30 percent this year in Illinois and Missouri and in adjoining states at a later date.

In another E85 project, GM will team with VeraSun and with Shell Oil Company in plans to add 26 E85 outlets in Chicago.

But some environmentalists are resisting renewable fuels, saying that ethanol fueled cars are less efficient and using current technologies can even produce more global warming emissions than gasoline fueled cars.

“The corn that goes into ethanol takes massive amounts of energy, water, and land to produce, and using it for fuel could take away food from the world’s poorest peoples,” says Co-op America in a recent letter-writing campaign to Congress.

Iowa cornfield in summer
(Photo courtesy Iowa Corn Promotion

From the right, the Competitive Enterprise Institute warns in a September 2006 issue analysis, “The United States might well have to clear an additional 50 million acres of forest – or more – to produce economically significant amounts of liquid transport fuels.”

“Ethanol mandates may force the local loss of many wildlife species, and perhaps trigger some species extinctions,” wrote the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “Soil erosion will increase radically as large quantities of low-quality land are put into fuel crops on steep slopes and in drought-prone regions.”

To avoid the food-fuel controversy, some view cellulosic ethanol made from non-food crops as the best option. Possible feedstocks include cattle manure, yard waste, logging slash, switchgrass, even scrap tires.

The Department of Energy last month announced funding of $114 million through 2010 for four small-scale biorefinery projects testing the manufacture of cellulosic ethanol to be located in Colorado, Missouri, Oregon and Wisconsin.

The National Biodiesel Board supports efforts to ensure that biodiesel produced and sold in the United States comes from sustainable resources. On February 4, at the National Biodiesel Conference, NBB Chairman Ed Hegland announced the appointment of a Sustainability Taskforce that will look at ways the board can help ensure the world’s resources are used responsibly for biodiesel production.

Soy-based biodiesel has a 78 percent carbon dioxide reduction below petroleum diesel, the NBB says, taking evidence from a life cycle study conducted by the U.S. Agriculture Department and the Energy Department. This study takes into account the planting and harvesting of the soybeans, producing the fuel and delivering it to the pump. A 2007 update to the study found that for every unit of fossil energy it takes to make biodiesel, 3.5 units of energy are gained.

The National Biodiesel Board has feedstock development programs in place to further increase the efficiency and diversity of the raw materials that are used for biodiesel production. These initiatives can recycle commercial and agricultural wastes, bring sustainable agriculture to non-productive lands, increase crop yields, and further lower pesticide and fertilizer applications.

The NBB says arid variety crops, algae, waste greases, and other feedstocks on the horizon have great potential to expand available material for biodiesel in a sustainable manner.

The government does not require consumers to purchase renewable fuel blends, but some states mandate the use of renewable fuels, so fuel without a renewable component might not be available in some areas.

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